In December 2010 I watched an interview with Julian Assange conducted by Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark. See for yourselves below how it was conducted, with Wark pressing the ‘sexual offender in danger of absconding’ line repeatedly even as Assange attempted to explain that he had stayed in Sweden for five weeks after the allegations emerged and only left after seeking permission from the Swedish government, which was granted. I was so disturbed by this encounter that I contacted Kirsty by email and she replied, very courteously – a rare occurrence when engaging with the corporate media. However, courteousness in defending a blatantly biased line of questioning which amounted to little more than a propaganda exercise is of poor value. In fact, it is Wark’s chirpy dismissal of Women Against Rape’s open letter to The Guardian which is so chilling. Also included below is my email to BBC News 24’s presenter, Martine Croxhall to which I received no response:
From: Alison Banville
Sent: 16 December 2010 22:55
To: Kirsty Wark
Thought you might be interested in this letter from Women Against Rape to The Guardian in support of Julian Assange:
Thursday 9 December 2010
Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations (Report, 8 December).
Women in Sweden don’t fare better than we do in Britain when it comes to rape.
Though Sweden has the highest per capita number of reported rapes in Europe and these have quadrupled in the last 20 years, conviction rates have decreased. On
23 April 2010 Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs-Posten that “up to 90% of all reported rapes never get to court. In 2006 six people were convicted of rape though almost 4,000 people were reported”. They endorsed Amnesty International’s call for an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations.
Assange, who it seems has no criminal convictions, was refused bail in England despite sureties of more than £120,000. Yet bail following rape allegations is routine. For two years we have been supporting a woman who suffered rape and domestic violence from a man previously convicted after attempting to murder an ex-partner and her children – he was granted bail while police investigated.
There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women’s safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don’t take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.
Women Against Rape
Your interview with him was interesting in that you assumed sexual misconduct on his part and you didn’t seem to be aware of his staying in Sweden after the allegations were made. Nor his asking for permission to leave and being granted it, nor his registering with the authorities as soon as he got to England.
Surely an interview should be based on facts? Your suggestion that he might apologize ‘to the women’ seemed bizarre.
Thank you for forwarding your letter to me.
I was in court yesterday so I am well aware of the Swedish details as well as the English court details. I will make the assumption that you know that rape in Sweden is differently defined and that there are three “grades”. Julian Assange is being questioned in relation to the third of these – still a serious charge if proven. I happen to have read extensively on this case and and I am surpised at the construction of your letter. Of course Julian Assange is innocent until proved guilty but why not just write a letter in support of him quite independently from Women Against Rape? Why are you conflating the two? As someone who was on Reclaim The Night marches more than thirty years ago I think I know just how appalling are the rape statistics, and I wonder at your assertion, “Many women……..allegations.”
From: Alison Banville
Sent: 17 December 2010 18:02
To: Kirsty Wark
Subject: Re: letter
Firstly, thanks for responding! So many mainstream journalists do not reply at all.
I should have made this clearer, but the letter isn’t mine ( I’m an activist/writer), it’s signed by a Katrin Axelsson. I have nothing to do with Women Against Rape but I’ll certainly pass on your comments to them so that they can respond if they wish. However, I’ll address your question as to why they conflated the rape issue with this case; I think Katrin made this clear when she said, ‘There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women’s safety. In the south of the US, the lynching of black men was often justified on grounds that they had raped or even looked at a white woman. Women don’t take kindly to our demand for safety being misused, while rape continues to be neglected at best or protected at worst.’
She pointed out before this that conviction rates for rape are so low in Sweden that Amnesty International has called for ‘an independent inquiry to examine the rape cases that had been closed and the quality of the original investigations’ and yet Assange is now being pursued with a vigour that these other women could only have dreamed of.
Although we must remember that the case was originally dismissed by the senior Swedish prosecutor as based on ‘no evidence’ before the intervention of politician Claes Borgström, Assange’s lawyers asked repeatedly for almost three months to see the prosecution case before anything was finally sent – in Swedish, which breaches European law. He is still not charged and strongly denies all allegations yet you asked him if he wanted to apologize to the women involved?
You also asked him to give an assurance that he would not abscond when he has never sought to avoid the authorities in any way. He tried to meet with prosecutors in Sweden and then asked for permission to leave the country – which he was granted. In the UK he made contact with the police who have always known where he is. This is not the behaviour of a man likely to abscond as I believe the judge said in court? Your question would not have sounded so bizarre had he ever done anything to try and give the authorities, here or in Sweden, the slip. As you are well aware of all these facts I wonder why you chose to ask these questions?
I am a proud feminist, as is Naomi Klein, who has commented recently that ‘rape is being used in the Assange prosecution in the same way that women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up!”
The plight of rape victims in Sweden should give us reason to question Assange’s highly unusual treatment, and if the mainstream media does not respond to this reality and accommodate it so that the discourse can be as wide as it is on the internet, then the msm will become increasingly irrelevant.
I am a feminist, and like Women Aagainst Rape and Naomi Klein I, as a woman, do not take kindly to an issue so close to my heart being misused for political ends. No-one is expecting Newsnight journos to act as though this is fact of course, but to act as though the possibility does not exist is simply not to live in the real world; further, to question Assange as though he has behaved improperly towards particular women when he vehemently denies such allegations, and as though he is at risk of becoming a fugitive when his behaviour to date suggests anything but appears very strange.
Again, thanks for responding Kirsty, this willingness to engage is unusual and appreciated..
Kirsty Wark <[email protected]>
Hi Alison – I’m getting ready for Review but just a couple of points –
1. lots of men vehemently deny allegations of sexual misconduct.
2. the judge made a big point in court yesterday of the nature of the people who were putting up bail – might be happy to have him abscond in the cause of wikileaks than go to Sweden to face questioning.
Best wishes Kirsty
Email sent to BBC News 24 reporter, Martine Croxhall:
You said on News 24 today (Sunday 20th August) while conducting an interview re Assange that Sweden’s judicial system is not known for operating without fairness. Are you aware that Human Rights Watch reported: ‘The United Nations’ ruling that Sweden violated the global torture ban in its involvement in the CIA transfer of an asylum seeker to Egypt is an important step toward establishing accountability for European governments complicit in illegal US renditions…’?httphttp://www.hrw.org/news/2006/11/09/sweden-violated-torture-ban-cia-rendition://www.hrw.org/news/2006/11/09/sweden-violated-torture-ban-cia-rendition
Mohammed al-Zari is not the only person Sweden has handed over to the US; Ahmed Agiza was also rendered in 2001. Again, Human Rights Watch reports: ‘The men had no opportunity under Swedish law to challenge the legality of their expulsions or the reliability of the Egyptian assurances. In May 2004 a Swedish television news program, “Kalla Fakta,” revealed that the two men were apprehended and physically assaulted by Swedish police; handed over to the custody of hooded US operatives at Stockholm’s Bromma airport who cut off the men’s clothing and blindfolded, hooded, diapered, and drugged them; and then transported aboard a US government-leased Gulfstream jet to Cairo’.http://www.supportmahjoub.org/wp-content/uploads/hrw_assurance_against_torture1.pdf
Did you not know that the United Nations has ruled Sweden violated the global torture ban? And also that Human Rights Watch has reported on this? If not (which would be the only viable excuse for your comments presenting Sweden’s judicial system so favourably to your viewers) then it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that doesn’t reflect well on your journalistic standards; if you did know yet chose, not only to omit this from your report but to actually mislead the audience with contrary information, then that would be a serious matter indeed. I would be very grateful for clarification on this matter,
Regards Alison Banville