Assange's accusers are WikiLeaks fans, lawyer says

Updated: 2010-12-25 08:40
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STOCKHOLM - The two Swedish women accusing Julian Assange of sex crimes are supporters of WikiLeaks, not pawns of the CIA, and they simply seek justice for a violation of their "sexual integrity" their lawyer says.

Claes Borgstrom, a self-professed feminist who used to be Sweden's ombudsman for gender equality, told The Associated Press he finds it "very upsetting" that Assange, his lawyers and some supporters are suggesting the case is a smear campaign against WikiLeaks, the secret-spilling website Assange founded.

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"He's been spreading false rumors that he knows are untrue. It's reckless against these two women," Borgstrom said by phone Thursday. "They, too, are supporters of WikiLeaks. They support its work."

Assange denies the allegations of sexual misconduct, which his lawyers say stem from a dispute over "consensual but unprotected sex". He has not been charged.

The lawyer said Assange had every right to reject the women's sex claims but says Assange is, in essence, accusing them of breaking the law by suggesting they are driven by ulterior motives.

"There is no truth to this whatsoever," he added.

British newspaper The Times recently quoted Assange as saying there is "very suggestive evidence" the two women were motivated by revenge, money and police pressure. When the investigation started after the August incidents, Assange said he had been warned about "dirty tricks" from the Pentagon, though he later said he wasn't pointing fingers at anyone.

At the time, WikiLeaks had deeply angered US officials by publishing tens of thousands of secret US military documents on the war in Afghanistan that the US said could put the lives of informants at risk.

The silver-haired Australian met both women in connection with a lecture on August 14 in Stockholm. One, a 31-year-old, was involved in organizing the event for Sweden's left-wing Social Democratic Party and offered to host Assange at her apartment. The other, a few years younger, was in the audience.

Assange had sex with both within a week, police documents show. The women realized that when the younger woman contacted the older one seeking to get in touch with Assange. They went to police together, not to file criminal complaint, but to seek advice, Borgstrom said.

A policewoman who heard their stories decided there was reason to suspect they were victims of sex crimes and handed over the case to a prosecutor.

Lawyer Gemma Lindfield, acting for Sweden in British courts, said one of the women accused Assange of pinning her down and refusing to use a condom. The second says Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep.

The case appears anything but clear-cut. A chief prosecutor in Stockholm dropped the rape complaint shortly after the case began, and it would most likely have ended there had it not been for Borgstrom.

The 66-year-old lawyer successfully appealed the decision to a more senior prosecutor who relaunched the investigation. Two-and-half months later, when Assange had already left Sweden, the senior prosecutor got court approval for a request to interrogate Assange on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

Assange is now out on bail in Britain, fighting his extradition to Sweden.

Asked whose initiative it was to appeal - his or the women's - Borgstrom demurred, citing client confidentiality. However, he said the women didn't even know it was possible to appeal a prosecutor's decision until he told them.

"I had read the police reports. I had seen my clients and heard their stories," Borgstrom said. "In my opinion, it was rape and attempted rape or sexual molestation."

Borgstrom was appointed Sweden's ombudsman for gender equality in 2000 by the Social Democratic government. He left the post in 2007, a year after the Social Democrats were ousted, and now runs a law firm with former Justice Minister Thomas Bodstrom.

Even in gender-conscious Sweden, Borgstrom has raised eyebrows for speaking out so strongly against the male norms he says still pervade Swedish society.

He has said all men bear a collective responsibility for the fact that some men abuse women. In 2006, he even proposed that Sweden withdraw from soccer's World Cup because of an expected surge in the sex trade in host nation Germany, where prostitution is legal.

"What happens during the World Cup is that women are imported - in the full sense of the word - to meet the demands from the men going there to buy sex," Borgstrom told Swedish TV at the time.

His proposal was rejected by the Swedish soccer federation and Sweden took part in the tournament as planned.

Borgstrom has previously described his passion for women's rights and equality as bordering on an obsession.

"Now that I really have put on my 'gender goggles' I see everything through them," he was quoted as saying in 2004 by the tabloid Aftonbladet.

A 2009 study funded by the European Commission found Sweden had the highest rate of reported sex offenses among 24 European countries - 47 per 100,000 citizens - though only 10 percent led to convictions. The high number of complaints doesn't necessarily mean rape is more common in Sweden but that victims are just more likely to step forward, Borgstrom said.

"We have better knowledge than other countries in the field of gender equality," he said. "That also means women don't accept certain things in the same way they do in other countries."