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Assange hails 'important victory' after Sweden drops rape investigation

“The road is far from over. The war, the proper war, is just commencing.”

julian Julian Assange speaks from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London today Source: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 6pm

WIKILEAKS FOUNDER JULIAN Assange has hailed an “important victory” after Swedish prosecutors dropped a rape investigation against him, speaking in a rare public appearance at Ecuador’s embassy in London.

“Today is an important victory for me,” he said, giving a clenched fist salute as he emerged onto the balcony of the embassy where he has been holed up for nearly five years to avoid extradition to Sweden.

Assange said his lawyers had contacted British authorities in the hope of starting a “dialogue” over his future, after the police said they would be “obliged” to execute an arrest warrant against him if he left the embassy.

Assange would be arrested for breaching bail conditions by failing to hand himself in for extradition to Sweden in 2012 and instead fleeing to the embassy where he obtained political asylum.

“The road is far from over. The war, the proper war, is just commencing,” Assange said told a crowd of reporters and a handful of supporters brandishing placards assembled under the balcony.

He promised WikiLeaks would continue its “fight” for government transparency and digital rights.

Assange also voiced bitterness about the Swedish allegations against him, which date back to 2010.

“In prison, under house arrest and almost five years here in this embassy without sunlight,” he said.

“Seven years without charge while my children grew up without me. That is not something I can forgive. It is not something I can forget,” he said.

Earlier, the Swedish prosecutor’s office said: “Director of Public Prosecution, Marianne Ny, has today decided to discontinue the investigation regarding suspected rape by Julian Assange.”

However, according to Reuters news agency, UK police say they will arrest Assange if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has been living, in London.

PA said the Met Police say this is because they are “obliged to execute a 2012 arrest warrant for failing to attend court”.

Today was the deadline for the public prosecutor’s office to either renew or lift Assange’s arrest warrant before a Stockholm court.

Shortly after the decision, Assange posted a picture of himself smiling broadly, without comment.

Ny and Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren briefed reporters on the decision at 12pm (10am Irish time).

Ny said if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations for the crime elapses, in August 2020, the preliminary investigation could however be reopened.

She said all possibilities to advance the investigation “have been exhausted” and noted that the legal proceedings would require Assange’s personal presence in a Swedish court.

Ny outlined that in order to proceed it would be necessary to formally serve Assange with notice of the crimes of which he is suspected. This is something which was supposed to have been conducted in London in 2016, but Assange “refused to make possible”.

“We cannot be expected to receive assistance from Ecuador,” Ny said.

The 45-year-old Australian has always denied the 2010 allegations, which he feared would see him extradited to the United States and tried over the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents.

He has been living at the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012 and risks being arrested by British police if he steps out of the building.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer last month filed a new motion demanding the arrest warrant be lifted after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April that arresting Assange would be “a priority”.

“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 so that Julian Assange can fly to Ecuador and enjoy his political asylum,” lawyer Per Samuelsson told AFP at the time.

The accusation against Assange dated from August 2010 when the alleged victim, who says she met him at a WikiLeaks conference in Stockholm a few days earlier, filed a complaint.

She accused him of having sex with her as she slept without using a condom despite repeatedly having denied him unprotected sex.

Endless delays

“I am entirely innocent,” Assange wrote in a 19-page testimony released in December 2016. He argues that the sex was consensual and has denounced the accusations as “politically motivated”.

The investigation suffered from multiple procedural complications since it began.

In a letter sent to the Swedish government on 8 May, Ecuador condemned “the obvious lack of progress” in the investigation despite Assange’s questioning in the presence of the Swedish prosecutor at the embassy in November 2016.

“It is extremely worrying that six months after the hearing at the Embassy of Ecuador in the United Kingdom, the Swedish prosecutor’s office has not yet decided on the judicial situation of Julian Assange,” the Ecuadoran Foreign Ministry said in the letter seen by AFP.

Swedish judges have refused to take into account the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which in February 2016 said Assange was effectively “arbitrarily detained” by Sweden and Britain and called for the arrest warrant to be annulled.

- © AFP, 2017

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