Julian Assange defiant as Sweden drops rape investigation
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has said he will not forgive and forget attempts to arrest him over rape allegations which led him to seek asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy.
In an angry tweet, Mr Assange said he had been detained for seven years “without charge” while his children grew up and his “name was slandered”.
Sweden said on Friday it had decided to drop the rape investigation.
Meanwhile Ecuador urged the UK to allow him safe passage out of the country.
Mr Assange, 45, has chosen to remain in the embassy as he fears extradition to Sweden would lead to extradition to the US, where he is wanted over the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents.
However, police in London said they would still be obliged to arrest him if he left the Ecuadorean embassy, despite the Swedish prosecutors’ decision.
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said Mr Assange still faced the lesser charge of failing to surrender to a court, an offence punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine.
But the UK has not commented on whether it has received an extradition request from the US, where Mr Assange could, potentially, face trial.
Sweden’s decision coincided with the release by Wikileaks of another tranche of documents about the US Central Intelligence Agency’s technical capabilities.
BBC security correspondent Gordon Correra says previous leaks, of what look like highly sensitive secret documents, have been damaging to the agency.
What has been the reaction?
Mr Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Per Samuelson, said the prosecutor’s decision on Friday represented “a total victory” for his client.
But the Wikileaks founder tweeted: “Detained for 7 years without charge… while my children grew up and my name was slandered. I do not forgive or forget.”
The plaintiff in the rape case was “shocked” by the decision, her lawyer said, and maintained her accusations against Mr Assange, Agence France-Presse reported.
What does Ecuador say?
Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said that the UK should now grant Mr Assange safe passage, as the European arrest warrant against him “no longer holds”.
“Ecuador welcomes the decision to drop the charges,” Mr Long added, quoted by AFP, while criticising the time it took Sweden to send an investigator to London to interview Mr Assange.
“Ecuador regrets that it took Swedish prosecutor more than four years to carry out this interview. This was a wholly unnecessary delay.”
Earlier a source at the ministry told the Press Association that Ecuador had “fully co-operated with the Swedish justice system”.
The source added that Ecuador would now intensify its diplomatic efforts with the UK so that Julian Assange could “enjoy his asylum in Ecuador”.
Why has the case been dropped?
At a press briefing on Friday, Sweden’s top prosecutor Marianne Ny said that by remaining in the embassy in London Mr Assange had evaded the exercise of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) that would have seen him extradited to Sweden.
She said that under Swedish law a criminal investigation needed to be conducted “as quickly as possible”.
Sweden did not expect Ecuador’s co-operation in formally notifying Mr Assange of the allegations against him, a necessary step in proceeding with the case, she added.
But she said: “If he were to return to Sweden before the statute of limitation on this case expires in August 2020, the preliminary investigation could be resumed.”
She said it was “regrettable we have not been able to carry out the investigation”, and added: “We are not making any pronouncement about guilt.”
How did Mr Assange end up where he is?
The rape allegation followed a Wikileaks conference in Stockholm in 2010. Mr Assange always denied the allegations against him, saying sex was consensual.
He also said the case was politically motivated, as it followed massive Wikileaks dumps of secret US military reports that year.
Later that year he was arrested in London after Sweden issued an international arrest warrant against him.
He spent the following months under house arrest in a small rural town in England.
Then, in June 2012, after exhausting legal avenues to prevent his extradition, Mr Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy, where he remains to this day.
What will happen to Mr Assange now?
After the news was announced on Friday, Wikileaks tweeted that the “focus now moves to the UK”, but Mr Assange’s fate still seems unclear.
The MPS issued a statement saying that its actions had been based on a response to a “European Arrest Warrant for an extremely serious offence”.
It went on: “Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Mr Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offence. The MPS will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offence.”
The MPS said it would “not comment further on the operational plan”.
Last month, Mr Samuelson filed a new motion calling for his client’s arrest warrant to be lifted.
He cited a comment by new US Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the arrest of Mr Assange would be “a priority”.
Mr Samuelson told Agence France-Presse: “This implies that we can now demonstrate that the US has a will to take action… this is why we ask for the arrest warrant to be cancelled.”