Friday, December 10, 2010

Wikileaks.ch or Wikileaks.shhhhhh? Saam Kapadia on Assange, Swedish law, and being damned for publishing!



Photo credits: Wikileaks.ch and Svt.se

As usual, Beirut/NTSC explores current news from their most off angles, whereas other bloggers have been concerned about the content of the leakes US diplomatic cables is (basically they have simply confirmed what we long have known), this blog concentrates more on the mediatic element of the whole thing and how has Wikileaks impacted the scene.


As a matter of fact, lately, Sweden has come into the eye of the storm by issuing the famous arrest warrants against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange - this in effect has prompted speculations about the pressure that was being execrised on that country and basically, the charges were being used as a trojan horse to get Assange behind bars - after all, Al Capone was indicted for tax evasion rather than any other criminal activity he had done.

In order to get the truth behind the matter, Beirut/NTSC has spoken to Saam Kapadia - whereas I am supposed at this stage to pump the credentials of this former war correspondent, incredible workshop leader, and supremely professional journalist - I shall simply introduce him as "my friend Saam Kapadia who is the executive editor for a current affairs programme on Swedish Television (SVT)."

Saam, an adept of Lord Wllington's philosophy of "Publish and be damned!" Trying selling that to participants from Arab countries in a course in Sweden - which was the occasion I have met Saam in - might have proved difficult to put it mildly, but simply for trying to do it Saam commands my full respect.

In this perspective, Saam says: "Wikileaks have provided unique insights into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and into how the US State Department works. Now that the files are available, the public has a right to know."

I suppose, having been to Sweden and having published an exhaustive article about the topic, I can understand Saam's reflection that "Julian Assange and the Wikileaks team seem to not have informed themselves properly on Sweden and Swedish law."

Actually, at the beginning of this summer, Wikileaks "sought refuge" in Sweden thinking that the Swedish constitution and law would protect the whistleblower site. However, they did not notice that (her again Saam points out) "the strong Swedish protection of informants mostly applies to Swedish civil servants and only if the information is published in Swedish media. A website that hosts information leaked from US sources is not protected, neither are the people running it or the informants."

A simple google exercise will show you that, when the coin flipped, Assange and his team now consider Sweden to be a puppet for US influence and that Assange will be extradited to the US. Once more, Saam explains that for the Swedish laws "an extradition from Sweden to the USA can only be done if the USA files a proper legal case where the crime is also a crime in Sweden. Since receiving documents from a secret source is not criminal in Sweden, the USA has to press charges for spying - which they have not."

At this stage, and in order to understand the importance of the rest of the arcticle, I shall tell you this anecdote: A Swedish couple is raising a child, now a healthy two-year old, simply named "pop" without disclosing its gender!
The importance of the anecdote is that Sweden is one of the rare countries where as a male you do not stand to have any benefits more than females. Equality in front of the law and in public life is so sacrosanct that - going back again to the course where Saam was my workshop leader - when I had to the final presentation and having had to pick a co-presenter I chose my Syrian fellow journalist George. In front of the choice Saam frowned and said: "Tarek, the only time two males take center stage is during a gay wedding which is legal in Swden. So you have to pick a female counterpart for the presentation."

So when it comes to the sex charges against assange being a Trojan horse, Saam is adamant: "It is hard to believe. The women that had sex with, or were raped or assaulted by, Assange were his hosts or part of the Swedish entourage. I cannot verify their claims, but they have a very good lawyer (the former state ombudsman for gender equality Claes Borgström) who managed to convince the Swedish prosecution that there in fact was a case when the prosecutor wrote off the allegations."

However, Sweden is a country that takes the "innocent until proven innocent exceptionally seriously" and takes measures to have the names of the people who are suspected would not leak to the press in order to protect their identity and dignity.

So whereas Saam stands by the motto of innoncent until otherwise proven, he does actually add that "Mr Borgström is a man of great integrity, hardly a man I would deem a CIA agent. And the evidence is apparently so strong that it has withstood several court hearings in Sweden and apparently also was enough for the court in London to lock him up and deny bail. Swedish society is more and more practising zero tolerance towards men assaulting, harassing and raping women."

So perhaps, just like Al Capone - Assange disregarded that a parallel charge was going to get him caught - as the Arabic saying goes "we expect it from the East, they came from the South"....
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