Allies of Julian Assange have been using quotes from his accusers to claim that the sexual assault charges against him are fake. One quote that’s been circulating on social media this week even says, “it was the police who fabricated the charges.” What’s the problem? The only source of the quotes is Julian Assange himself. And they may not even be direct quotes, despite being presented as such.
Assange, the 47-year-old co-founder of WikiLeaks, currently faces extradition to Sweden after a rape case against him was reopened yesterday. But quotes keep popping up on Twitter that are being attributed to Assange’s alleged victims—quotes that claim one of Assange’s accusers didn’t want to charge Assange with anything and that the local police concocted the sexual assault allegations.
According to journalist John Pilger in a tweet published yesterday, one of the victims texted a friend, “I did not want to put any charges against JA,” presumably referring to Julian Assange. Pilger quotes another text message that reads, “it was the police who fabricated the charges.”
Assange’s affidavit includes supposedly damning quotes like:
The woman concerned told a friend that she felt that she had been “railroaded by police and others around her”, according to the latter’s police statement.
Assange’s affidavit also includes this quote, supposedly from a text message:
“it was the police who made up the charges”.
As any journalist knows, words you put in quotation marks are supposed to be a direct quote; an accurate representation of the literal words used. There’s supposed to be no room for error in a direct quote, especially in an age with ubiquitous voice recorders and text messages. In this case, Assange was quoting text messages, so readers would reasonably assume that the victim literally said, “it was the police who made up the charges.” But you have to go all the way to Assange’s footnotes at the end of his to learn the truth:
My lawyers have been refused a copy of the phone records in full; the citation is paraphrased and is a direct quote from my lawyers’ email.
Oh, really? It’s a “direct quote” from an email by Assange’s lawyers of something that’s been paraphrased? That’s not how quotes work. Especially if you bury the truth about the “quotes” in footnotes. Since it’s not clear what “the citation is paraphrased” means, it could be directly quoting Assange’s lawyers’ assessment of the situation, that’s not what’s being implied by Assange or his defenders. In fact, it’s not at all clear what kind of access to phone records, if any, Assange’s lawyers were given by authorities.
The internet subsequently played its game of telephone after Assange’s affidavit was published online in 2013, and the context was completely lost. Assange allies like journalist John Pilger, former British politician Craig Murray, and journalist Ben Norton have all been using the quotes to claim that the charges against Assange have been fabricated.
They sometimes allege that the American intelligence community is behind the accusations in retaliation for Assange’s publication of embarrassing State Department diplomatic cables and sensitive military videos.
Norton even tweeted a screenshot of the Assange affidavit, merely identifying the quotes as coming directly from “court documents.”
And while it’s technically accurate to describe Assange’s affidavit as a “court document,” the quotes definitely have a different complexion when you learn that they’re filtered through Assange and his lawyers and not directly from the women themselves.
From the affidavit:
My lawyers in Sweden, Per E. Samuelson and Thomas Olsson, were able to review the phone records that are part of the investigation, including SMS traffic between the two women and between SW and some of the witnesses. My lawyers notified me via email on 8 December 2011 of the content of twenty-two of these messages.
As you may have noticed, this statement and the citation above add some confusion about Assange’s lawyers’ access to the relevant phone records. Did they review them but not just get a copy of the full records? Did they review only portions of the phone records? As mentioned, it’s unclear and adds more confusion over the accuracy of the quotes.
Assange has been sentenced by a British court to just under one year in prison for skipping bail back in 2012 on the sex assault charges in Sweden. Assange claimed asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he lived for almost seven years before the Ecuadorians kicked him out in April. It’s now up to the British authorities whether to extradite Assange to the U.S. or to Sweden.
Admittedly, the charges brought against Assange by the U.S. Justice Department are pretty flimsy, all things considered. The WikiLeaks founder has been charged with one count of attempting to hack a classified computer, something that the Obama administration refused to do because they were concerned about the implications for journalism and free speech.
But the Trump regime clearly has no such worries about overstepping their authority. And why would they? They’ve overstepped in myriad ways that are currently eroding the rule of law in the United States, doing everything from refusing to honour lawful subpoenas from Congress for President Trump’s tax returns to opening investigations into the president’s political opponents.
Julian Assange doesn’t belong in prison for the journalism he’s produced, even if he broke a lot of journalism rules and actively solicited a political appointment from the Trump regime as he was releasing stolen emails meant to damage Hillary Clinton. But all of that is independent of the sexual assault accusations that have been brought by two women in Sweden after their encounters with Assange in 2010.
The statute of limitations has expired for one of the women, but the second one is going to be investigated whether Assange likes it or not. As it should be. And Assange’s allies will no doubt continue to insist that the charges are a frame-up job, but they should stop using third-hand “quotes” to do it.