Sweden considers reopening Julian Assange rape allegation investigation

Julian Assange could face rape charges in Sweden after prosecutors said they were reexamining allegations made against him.

His arrest on Thursday prompted the lawyer for a Swedish woman, who alleged she was raped by Assange during a visit to Stockholm in 2010, to ask for the case to be reopened.

In May 2017, Sweden’s top prosecutor dropped the long-running inquiry into the claim against Assange, which he has always denied.

The alleged victim's lawyer, Elizabeth Massi Fritz, said she would do "everything we possibly can," to have the case reopened.

Earlier on Friday, Jeremy Corbyn has said Britain must oppose any attempts by the US to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Labour leader said Assange - who was arrested at the embassy he had called home for almost seven years on Thursday - should not be sent to America "for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan".

His stance appeared to be in direct contrast to that of the prime minister, Theresa May, and several ministers who had welcomed the arrest of the 47-year-old whistleblower.

Mr Corbyn's intervention came as Assange's WikiLeaks colleagues said they feared he faced decades behind bars or even the death penalty if he is extradited to the United States.

  • Chancellor Philip Hammond

Chancellor Philip Hammond says it will be for the judicial system to make a decision on Assange's future.

"I think that's a matter for the courts; it's a very important principal of our constitution that we separate judicial and executive power," Mr Hammond told ITV News.

"This is a sub judice, so it will be for the courts to decide what will happen to Mr Assange."

The 47-year-old has spent his first night in custody after being convicted of breaching bail following a dramatic arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy in London,. He is facing extradition to the US on charges of conspiring to break into a classified government computer which, on conviction, could attract a maximum jail sentence of five years, according to the US Department of Justice.

But WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson expressed concern there could be more serious charges awaiting Assange.

He said: “We believe this indictment presented in the extradition request is only a part of the story – that there will be more later, that will be added on, more charges.

“It probably adds to the likelihood that he will be extradited from the UK if it’s on relatively smaller charges.”

He said the Grand Jury investigation included charges which could lead to decades in prison or even the death penalty under the Espionage Act 1917.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said the UK Government had given him a written assurance Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.

Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London. Credit: PA

The US accuses Assange of assisting Chelsea Manning, a former US intelligence analyst, in breaking a password that helped her infiltrate Pentagon computers.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Assange was in the “cross-hairs of the US administration” over his whistle-blowing activities, and claimed this was the reason he faced being extradited to the US.

A suited Assange, with grey hair tied into a pony tail and sporting a long beard, was described by a judge at a packed Westminster Magistrates’ Court as behaving like a “narcissist”, as he advised him to “get over to the US” and “get on with your life”.

Assange spent almost seven years in the embassy, where he sought political asylum in 2012 when he failed in his legal battle against extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted over two separate allegations, one of rape and one of molestation.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, and lawyer Jennifer Robinson speak to the media outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

The Ecuadorian government had historically been sympathetic to Assange’s cause but a regime change two years ago heralded a less supportive approach and, after 2,487 days in the embassy building in the shadow of Harrods, he was finally removed – shouting and gesticulating.

The Ecuadorian ambassador to the UK, Jaime Marchan, said that in the time Assange had remained in the embassy he had been disrespectful, “continually a problem” and interfered in elections, politics and the internal affairs of other countries.

Mr Marchan added: “He has said that we were spying on him, he has said we were lying, we were agents of the United States.”

WikiLeaks said Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”.

Australian Assange came to prominence after WikiLeaks began releasing hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables.

US President Donald Trump, who had declared “I love WikiLeaks” during his 2016 campaign when the website released damaging emails concerning rival candidate Hillary Clinton, said following Assange’s arrest: “I know nothing about WikiLeaks.”

Former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said: "The bottom line is that he has to answer for what he has done, at least as it has been charged."

Speaking outside court, Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said her client’s arrest “sets a dangerous precedent for all journalist and media organisations in Europe and around the world”.

Assange's mother Christine has called on those detaining her son to be "patient, gentle and kind to him" due to his experiences in recent years.

Assange faces a jail term of up to 12 months for the bail breach when he is sentenced at a later date at crown court.

He will next appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on May 2 by prison video-link in relation to the extradition.