Field Note: Account of Julian Assange Extradition Hearing

Posted on 08/02/2011 by

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Mirjam Eikelboom, independent field reporter.

After the positive feedback on the report I did last time – I decided to go once more to London. A different journey: Last time was spur of the moment & very intuitive. If Gallilei lived today, I would have wanted to go to THAT process & this is about the biggest thing to happen in my profession (archiving) for the coming 100 years!!! I think Wikileaks is also a sign of a lot of other things that will start shifting.

This time my decision is more controlled. I have less to ‘do’ for myself and one of my purposes is definitely pure support. I feel that at this time consistent, level-headed support is very needed.

I was again early & noticed that there was slightly less press & slightly less security. The latter probably because the police now put a fence round the entrance and the road throughout & felt more in control that way. I walked straight to the entrance to qeue for the public & at 8.30 could proceed to the court-room without further ado.

On the public gallery the security was 1 policeman up – but it was possible to wait there. Courtroom-staff were less itchy than they were last time.They were now with two women in charge. Despite supporting Wikileaks I have frowned my eyebrows at remarks that a pink cashmere sweater is apparently not appropriate on official occasions. The eyes of the people making that remark would have popped out here. Belmarsh Crown Court female staff loves high, very high (!) heels and I saw several people in fishnet stockings!

I had a nice conversation with one of the cops who perfectly understood the importance of this particular process. To leave space for the public, the court had decided to be very strict with press (I heard a rumour that there were 300 journalists on a waiting list!!) & consequently they were very strict with writing things down. It was going to be considered as contempt of court & people were going to be thrown out (which actually happened once). Tweeting is allowed though – but my phone doesn’t work here. Sorry guys!

At about quarter to ten the public gallery had completely filled up (only 24 places – given out on a fist come, first served basis). As WL staff and the people who put bail money down were late – extra space was needed to fit everybody in. In the end I offered my place if really needed & I let John Pilger decide. Once an Member of Parliament almost had no seat I gave up mine. Mr. Pilger said he was going to leave at 12.00 – so I decided I would wait outside till then. I find it annoying that there are only a few places available & I find it downright shocking that defendants cannot claim space for their family-members and loved ones!!
After my last visit I mailed the court to ask if they could create an extra facility for the public – where to watch onscreen.
It turns out they did that for the press (media center) but not for the public.

Once outside other courts were doing business as usual and I saw a couple of judges etc. with the funny wigs. One of them said: ‘Look at this, look at this bloody fun-fair. When I come back on Wednesday I hope they’ll have stopped messing around my court’. Another quote from someone going to another process: ‘I feel like I am on the red carpet walking through Belmarsh’. Many people in other processes seemed poor to me and badly prepared for a day in court. A lady who turned up in a big pink oversized jogging suit being a good example.

Another simple observation: At most court-cases staff were carrying one or two cardboard boxes. I saw the legal team from Assange carting round complete trollies with about 4 of 5 boxes. If you relate that to hours work from lawyers – you can literally see that this is an expensive court case!!!

From my position behind the glass-windows of the court I see my fellow supporters. There are about 30 of them – despite the remoteness of the location & the freezing cold. Two of them are wearing orange ‘Guantanamo’ outfits. A voice is calling through a megaphone in a rhythmic, clear and systematic way – still the words cannot be understood.

At about 12.20 there is indeed place becoming available. I come in the court at the time the witnesses will take a stand. The first witness is a very bright and energetic elderly lady. She wears a beautiful dark green outfit and has spikey hair: she turns out to be a former Swedish judge & professor of law. Her main observation is that there are many things that strike her as highly unusual.

As the process unfolds it turns out that she is specialised in deciding if the violence the state exercises in bringing someone to court is proportionate to the relevance of the accusation. Her main point: there are clear rules how you can decide that, but many lawyers in Sweden don’t apply these rules. They go by ‘intuition’. On top of that those lawyers who want to make a career rush cases; they don’t rule well on the finer points. If she were ever accused in any process, she would prefer a less ambitious official from a lower court make the decisions.

What I notice during the interrogation of this lady by Assange’s lawyer is that communication is not always fluent. There are three blockades: she has a slight hearing problem, the language is not always clear for someone who doesn’t master it (and they don’t use a strict process for the translations) & then sometimes the language/ questions themselves are very tricky..

This becomes more apparent when the prosecution starts their interrogation – the lady prosecutor is (I think) pretty calculating. As if she has this whole list of arguments that she all wants decided in a certain way & is just planning and playing to get them one by one. One of the means she uses are these remarks that are questions at the same time: ‘So would you argue that your statement that Swedish law is currently not very precise – is in general supported by lawyers in your country?’

I find the process here very dangerous: There is a translator & sometimes the lady answers questions directly. This while we, on the gallery, believe that she may have heard/ understood them wrong. It is compensated a bit by the English lawyer repeating some of the stuff and making her clarify again. But in general I found the quality of the process poor. To me – they should translate everything & record the Swedish for future reference!! (Later someone told me that things were recorded – I really hope that they can review this part of the process. To check if everything came out correct).

The judge/witness made a statement that Marianne Ny wanted to keep women and children safe and -because of that- wanted to take men of the street as a prevention.
Another trick from the prosecution: reading only the first half of this statement & then asking the witness: do you agree with this purpose??
The witness pointed out to her that the fist line got a completely different meaning when connected to the second line!!

A lot of confusion in the paperwork – everybody has copies without page-numbers & from the public gallery I can see that Assange’s lawyer, the prosecutor and the witness are all the time all on a different page when discussing stuff (the ‘picture on the page’ = how many blanks etc., length of text etc. looks completely different.)

Nice to know: the court has its own canteen which is called Dick Wittington & full of drawings and photographs of black cats. I think they choose this name because the velvety black appearance of this cat looks so much like the velvety black appearance of legal council……

The second witness I a man who runs a website that specializes in the rights of rape-victims. He is very strongly motivated for this – as his own mother was a victim & as a child he saw the consequences. He told the court that he voluntarily approached them when he noticed that witness A. had removed some ‘happy tweets’ from her encounter with Assange. Either just before or during lodging the complaint. He also wanted to introduce the police to some other relevant witnesses.

Funny: I think that Anna Ardin gave away to the police that she is actually the person who brought this rape-case in the news!! The witness for the defense said that he found out Anna erased her tweets just before or during her visit to the police.
The prosecutor then says to the witness: did you hear Anna’s own explanation for that – the explanation she gave to the police??
Witness: no.
Prosecutor: Anna explained that she deleted these tweets because the was afraid that WHEN THE CASE CAME IN THE NEWS people would guess that she is the complainant – because they will associate her with Assange.

My opinion: a normal complainant would not have started to take all these precautions – because they would not have expected their case to go in the news. But Anna took precautions because she KNEW the case would come in the news. Which is consistent with the very first article in the Expressen which states that the paper heard about the accusations from a source very close to the complainants!!

The witness reads the 7 steps to legal revenge and says that Anna has now deleted all of them from her website – apart from step 1: Consider really carefully if you really need to take revenge..
http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×9712568

It becomes very quiet in court during this reading – and I have to admit that I am shocked by the text. Glancing over it is a totally different experience than someone saying these threats aloud to you.
Being in a setting that proves that someone may actually have carried them out makes it even more grim.
The witness even excuses himself and assures us that ‘it will be only one more line’

The same witness further says that he doesn’t understand what happened with the testimony of the two complainants. Normally such important evidence should either have been video-taped or recorded. In this case the police wrote summaries of what the complainants said. He literally says: they do such summaries for when your bicycle is stolen – I would have expected them to take these interviews more serious. And now the authentic, original statements are gone for ever!

Last important remark: in Sweden there are no two different words for want and consent. The only word they have is ‘want’. This is important because the Swedes cannot say that they agreed with something, though it was not there heart’s desire.
Eg. I consent to go to be a witness in this court and to be grilled by the questions from the prosecution –  though I may not want it!!.

I won’t do an eye-witness account on the second day. I was early in court – but they were very short of places. I decided to give up my place to someone from Assange’s ‘core-team’. Salient detail – even Vaughan Smith is not guaranteed a place on this gallery, despite the fact that he has to decide if he will continue to support Julian any further (not that I doubt he will).
So – I’ll be off to enjoy the sunshine in London!!
For people who want to read more: I heard that the skeleton argument for Sweden is now also up on the website of http://FSILaw.com/

[All available case documents on Julian Assange’s extradition case, including the skeleton argument, can be seen here.]

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Posted in: Field Notes