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Details of Sweden's case against WikiLeaks' Julian Assange

Sexual assault allegations in Sweden against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are feeding conspiracy theories and claims that he's being framed. What are the known facts?

By Staff writer / December 8, 2010

An artist impression by courts artist Elizabeth Cook of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court in London, Tuesday, Dec. 7, where he was denied bail after appearing on an extradition warrant from Sweden.

Elizabeth Cook/AP Photo

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(The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Julian Assange is facing extradition to Sweden over charges of sexual assault. He is in fact wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and no formal charges have been made.)

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The media drama surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken a much darker turn.

Following WikiLeak's release of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables to media outlets around the world, he's detained in the UK awaiting deportation to Sweden on allegations he sexually assaulted two women there in August.

His lawyer is warning that Assange has distributed the digital equivalent of a "thermonuclear device" in case something happens to him, and his defenders insist that the allegations are fabricated in an attempt to get him to Sweden – perhaps, they hint, because the country has a strong extradition treaty with the US.

But lawyer Gemma Lindfield, representing the Swedish state, told a London court yesterday that politics and Assange's activism have nothing to do with the case. In her telling, it's a simple case of credible allegations of rape being made against Assange by two women, and that he should be brought to Sweden to stand trial.

The circumstances of the case – both women told Swedish police they had at least one consensual sexual encounter with Assange – has fueled plenty of online rumor and disinformation. A mention from the Swedish police and press reports that Assange failed to use a condom in one instance, and that in another his condom broke, have led to many false claims that having unprotected sex is illegal in Sweden, and that the country has a "broken condom law."

The reality is more prosaic.

As Ms. Lindfield tells it, the two women had withdrawn their consent to have sex with Assange either during or immediately before the act. As a result, he is charged with four violations of Sweden's criminal code on sex crimes. The first woman, "Miss A," whom Assange knew from Swedish activist circles, alleges that he coerced her to have sex. He's also charged with refusing to wear a condom, despite being asked to by "Miss A."

In the case of "Miss W," as she was described in court, he's also alleged to have "sexually exploited" the fact that she was asleep to have sex with her on Aug. 17. Article 3 of Sweden's criminal code on sex crimes indicates that she could not be reasonably expected to have given consent in that state. "A person who induces another person to engage in a sexual act by gross abuse of his or her dependent state shall be sentenced for sexual exploitation to imprisonment for at most two years," Article 3 says. "The same shall apply to a person who engages in a sexual act with another person by improperly taking advantage of the fact that the latter is helpless or in some other state of incapacitation."

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