Julian Assange, founder of secret-sharing organization WikiLeaks, was arrested by police officers outside the Ecuadoran Embassy in London on Thursday, bringing to an end almost seven years of evading British authorities by staying in the diplomatic outpost.
Assange could be extradited to the United States, where he has been charged with hacking-related offenses. The Australian-born privacy activist has said this is a threat to press freedom and pledged to fight extradition from jail.
But prosecution in the United States might not be his only worry — or, ultimately, the most pressing. Assange first fled to the safety of the Ecuadoran Embassy not to escape the reach of the United States, but because of law enforcement moves by Sweden, where Assange had been accused of sexual offenses during a visit to the country two years before.
For one woman who said she had a case against Assange in Sweden, the news that he might eventually be extradited to the United States brought mixed feelings.
“For me this was never about anything else than his misconduct against me/women and his refusal to take responsibility for this,” Anna Ardin, a writer and activist, said on Twitter.
However, the sudden expulsion of Assange from the Ecuadoran Embassy may allow new investigation of the most serious Swedish allegation against him — that of rape.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the attorney for that accuser, said in a statement to The Washington Post that she hopes Swedish prosecutors will reopen the case against Assange, a move that could ultimately see him extradited to Sweden.
“No one is above the law and no one should be able to hide and escape from justice like Assange has done in this case,” Massi Fritz said.
Assange has always denied the Swedish accusations. The two women who accused him said they had brief affairs with him while he was visiting the country, but that he later acted in a nonconsensual way — including having unwanted and unprotected sex with one of the women while she was asleep.
Assange, who returned to Britain after the alleged incidents, was soon sought by Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny for questioning in Sweden on allegations of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and rape. In line with standard operating procedure in Swedish courtrooms, he was not formally charged.
In Britain, Assange fought the extradition, claiming that the women were simply jilted lovers.
“I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort but I am no rapist,” Assange wrote in an unofficial autobiography released in 2011. “They each had sex with me willingly and were happy to hang out with me afterwards.”
In a grueling 18-month legal case, during which he was under partial house arrest, Assange’s team called upon Swedish legal experts who suggested that Ny had mishandled the case and that she had a bias against men. At points, Assange suggested that the Swedish allegations were simply a ruse to help the United States extradite him.
In June 2012, with his legal avenues exhausted, Assange finally faced extradition to Sweden. Instead, he fled to the Ecuadoran Embassy. Eight weeks later, he was granted asylum. Assange would not leave the embassy until this week.
For Swedish prosecutors, there was little to do with Assange outside of the reach of British police due to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which says law enforcement officers of a host country cannot enter an embassy or consulate without permission.
Assange was finally questioned for two days in November 2016, after a change in tactics from Swedish authorities who had previously argued that he had to travel to Sweden to be interviewed. Assange later released his testimony to the media; it included a statement that suggested that Swedish prosecutors had subjected him to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Time ran out to pursue the Swedish allegations of molestation and unlawful coercion in 2015. Prosecutors decided to discontinue the rape investigation against Assange in 2017, with Ny saying at a news conference in Stockholm that “all possibilities to advance the investigation have now been exhausted.”
This week may change that. On Thursday, chief prosecutor Ingrid Isgren said that Sweden had not been informed ahead of time that Assange would be expelled from the embassy. Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson noted that the statute of limitations for the rape case would not run out until 2020.
“We will now examine the case in order to determine how to proceed,” Persson said in a statement.
Ove Bring, a professor of international law at the University of Stockholm, said that if Sweden revived the case, that would imply a new European arrest warrant, a mechanism of the European Union, that would require Britain to extradite Assange.
If Swedish prosecutors ask for Assange’s extradition, it will ultimately be up to British courts to decide whether this claim should supersede a U.S. request. David Allen Green, a British legal commentator who has tracked the allegations against Assange for years, wrote on Twitter that the Swedish request would probably be given precedence “because of historic request and pending limitation period.”
Massi Fritz, the lawyer for one accuser, said that she hoped that Assange could be extradited before the statute of limitations runs out next year.
“This has been a very long and painful process for my client,” she said. “I’m fighting for her rights to be remembered.”
But for Ardin, it is too late.
“Too bad my case could never be investigated properly,” she wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “It’s already been closed.”
Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report from London.