LONDON, May 2 -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces an initial hearing in London on Thursday over an extradition request from the United States, a day after he was jailed for 50 weeks for jumping bail.
The US wants to extradite the Australian whistle-blower, who was arrested on April 11 after spending seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy, to face charges of “conspiracy” for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The US indictment, which was only revealed following his dramatic arrest for breaching bail, accuses him of helping crack a password stored on US department of defence computers in March 2010. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years. Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrong-doing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries. WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said on Wednesday that all efforts would now be focused on preventing Assange’s extradition to the US. “It will be a question of life and death,” he warned. Assange’s supporters believe that more serious charges could be filed if he is transferred to the US, and he fears the death penalty. Hrafnsson was speaking outside London’s Southwark Crown Court, where a British judge handed Assange a 50-week jail term for breaching a British court order when he sought refuge in the embassy in June 2012.
‘I apologise unreservedly’
At the time, Swedish authorities wanted to extradite Assange over claims of sexual assault and rape, which he denied. He claimed the allegations were a pretext to transfer him to the United States. There is no longer an active investigation in Sweden and the extradition request has lapsed, but Assange was still accountable for breaching British law, leading to him being dragged shouting from the embassy by police when Ecuador gave him up last month. The 47-year-old, his shaggy beard neatly trimmed, raised his fist to supporters in the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court as he was taken down to the cells. In a letter read out on his behalf, Assange expressed regret, saying: “I did what I thought at the time was the best or perhaps the only thing that I could have done.” “I apologise unreservedly,” he said. Assange’s team is fighting his extradition and the process could take years. WikiLeaks is also back in the news in the United States, over its alleged role in the leak of Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016 US presidential election. The Swedish claims against Assange date back to 2010, when he was at the centre of a global storm over WikiLeaks’ exposures. The sexual assault claim expired in 2015, but while the rape claim was dropped in 2017, the alleged victim wants the case reopened. If Stockholm makes a formal extradition request, Britain must decide whether to consider it before or after that of the United States.
LONDON, May 1 -- A UK judge has sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail seven years ago and holing up in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Judge Deborah Taylor said it was hard to imagine a more serious version of the offence as she gave the 47-year-old hacker a sentence close to the maximum of a year in custody. She said Assange's seven years in the embassy had cost UK taxpayers 16 million pounds ($21m) and said he sought asylum as a "deliberate attempt to delay justice". The white-haired Assange stood impassively with his hands clasped while the sentence was read. His supporters in the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court chanted "Shame on you" at the judge as Assange was led away. An Australian citizen, Assange sought asylum in the South American country's London embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations. Assange's lawyer Mark Summers told a courtroom packed with journalists and WikiLeaks supporters that his client sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy because "he was living with overwhelming fear of being rendered to the US". He said Assange had a "well-founded" fear that he would be mistreated and possibly sent to the US detention camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Summers read a letter from Assange apologising for his behaviour in 2012 and saying "I did what I thought was best". "I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances," the letter said. Assange was arrested on April 11 after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, accusing him of everything from meddling in the nation's foreign affairs to poor hygiene. He faces a separate court hearing on Thursday on a US extradition request. US authorities have charged Assange with conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer system.
A bedraggled and sickly looking Assange was dragged out of the embassy building in the UK capital by officers and bundled into a police van after the South American country abruptly revoked his asylum.
Assange, 47, was initially arrested for breaching bail terms and was later found guilty before a London court. In the earlier hearing, a judge said Assange displayed the "behaviour of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest". Police said they had been "invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorean government's withdrawal of asylum". Assange was arrested upon arrival at a police station on behalf of the United States after it requested his extradition, police added. US federal prosecutors charged him with computer hacking and aiding whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, which they said carries a potential five-year prison term. Speaking to reporters outside the court after Assange's arrest, WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson said the case sets a dangerous precedent, and that Assange may face even more charges if he is delivered to the US. "Anyone who wants the press to be free should consider the implications of this case. If they will extradite a journalist to the US, then no journalist will be safe." "There is no assurance that there won't be additional charges when he is on US soil," Hrafnsson added.
LONDON, April 13 -- More than 70 British members of parliament have signed a letter urging the home secretary to ensure that WikiLeaks cofounder Julian Assange is extradited to Sweden if a case there is reopened against him.
The letter, signed late on Friday by mostly Labour Party MPs, urged UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to "stand with the victims of sexual violence" and ensure the rape claim against him can be "properly investigated". "We do not presume guilt, of course, but we believe due process should be followed and the complainant should see justice be done," it said. The 47-year-old Australian activist was arrested by British police on Thursday and forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London after his asylum was revoked, bringing to an end more than six years in the building. Assange originally sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors wanted to question him over a rape allegation, which he denied. Sweden suspended its investigation of serious sexual misconduct two years ago because Assange was beyond their reach while at the embassy. But on Friday, Swedish prosecutors said they were examining the rape case at the request of the alleged victim's lawyer.
British Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said it was right that he should face justice if charges are brought. "If the Swedish government wants to come forward with those charges, I believe that Assange should face the criminal justice system," said Abbott, who added that the arrest was politically motivated as WikiLeaks has published enormous tranches of sensitive military information. "We all know what this is about. It's not the rape charges, serious as they are, it's about WikiLeaks. All that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military that was made public and that is what it is about." The move by British MPs to push for Assange's extradition to Sweden came hours after the Labour Party called on the government to halt his extradition to the United States, where he has been charged with offences related to his work with whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Abbott said Prime Minister Theresa May should intervene as she did in the case of British hacker Gary McKinnon, whose extradition request she rejected on medical grounds in 2012. But May has shown no desire to interfere with the US's wishes this time. She welcomed the arrest in Parliament on Thursday, where Sajid Javid, the current home secretary, accused Labour of supporting a man with "a track record of undermining the UK and our allies and the values we stand for".
US prosecutors say Assange faces five years in prison if convicted of "conspiracy to commit computer intrusion", though further charges are expected to be brought against him. Abbott's comments followed a post on Twitter by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday that praised Assange's exposing of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and said that his extradition to the US "should be opposed by the British government".
The Metropolitan Police Service also said it "had a duty to execute the warrant, on behalf of Westminster Magistrates' Court, and was invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government's withdrawal of asylum." British Home Secretary Sajid Javid, in turn, said on Twitter that "nearly seven years after entering the Ecuadorean Embassy, I can confirm Julian Assange is now in police custody and rightly facing justice in the UK". "I would like to thank Ecuador for its cooperation and the Metropolitan Police for its professionalism. No one is above the law," he added.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said on Thursday that Ecuador had decided to withdraw diplomatic asylum from Assange.
STOCKHOLM, April 10 -- Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has said that he plans to continue political dialogue with Russia.
Lofven visited St. Petersburg on Tuesday to take part in the International Arctic Forum "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue." The Swedish prime minister also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I appreciate the opportunity to discuss politics at this level, and I intend to continue political talks with Russia. It is clear that we need this. We have consensus on some issues and disagreements on others," Lofven told the Expressen newspaper. The prime minister found his meeting with Putin very valuable. "It was an important meeting, and it was a right thing to do," Lofven said adding that "we always need to try improving our relations with Russia even further. The issue the sides disagreed on the most was the situation in Ukraine, he noted. "He [Putin] thinks that our understanding of this is incorrect. It was an issue that showed that we have different outlooks on this. I clearly state my opinion on this matter because it is important for Sweden," the prime minister stressed.
STOCKHOLM, March 24 -- Independent journalist and freedom fighter Katerina Janouch wrote a short introduction for an article in her own online magazine “Katerina Magasin”.
The article, written by another Swedish writer – Madeleine Rönnqvist Lilja, is about the British freedom fighter Tommy Robinson. In her text, Katerina wrote: “Defending freedom of expression when you agree is a breeze, but if we are to have any freedom of speech worth mentioning, it must also be defended when it is challenged and not all agree.” She then pointed out that it “may be your turn next”. And Swedish Facebook took Katerina at her word and suspended her.
Their actions cannot be interpreted in any other way than as a clear signal against freedom of expression – and in particular against the idea that we should accept the views of others even if we disagree with them.
In a comment on the suspension, Katerina writes: “Seven days of suspension was the result when I published an article about the British free speech hero Tommy Robinson on Facebook. The article was published on March 10, but I was suspended now, twelve days later. Perhaps a censorship committee was needed to conclude that the content was so offensive that it violated Facebook’s community standards? There is also a threatening tone in which it is pointed out that I can be further penalised if I dare publish something equally inappropriate again. Madeleine’s article is about freedom of speech, and that all opinions, even the ones we disagree with should be allowed, without the person stating them being threatened and harassed and called a dissident.
“Tommy Robinson’s issue is ours”, was my headline and what do you know, sooner than I could imagine Tommy Robinson’s issue was mine. Which people can we write about on Facebook? Perhaps the powerful social media platform should provide a list of which individuals we cannot mention by name. If someone previously doubted that freedom of expression is under attack, this is clear proof that that is the case. I wish I could write “see you on Facebook in a week” but at the moment I don’t know if I want to come back.
Please continue reading Katerina Magasin! And spread the links. My own platform, no one can take away from me – at least not yet.”
SINGAPORE, March 5 -- Volvo and a Singapore university unveiled a driverless electric bus Tuesday that will soon undergo tests in the city-state, the latest move towards rolling out autonomous vehicles for public transport.
High-tech Singapore has become a testbed for self-driving technology and the world's first driverless taxis went into operation in a limited public trial in the country in 2016. Swedish automaker Volvo Buses and its local partner Nanyang Technological University (NTU) unveiled what they described as a full-size autonomous electric bus and said the vehicle would soon start trial runs in the university's sprawling campus. Volvo Buses president Hakan Agnevall also said that the company is willing to increase its investment in developing autonomous vehicles in Singapore, having already put in a significant sum of money in a joint project with the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
The Swedish carmaker launched a full-sized, autonomous electric bus with NTU, with both saying that the 12m-long bus was the first of its kind. Mr Agnevall said: "Everybody is looking at developing autonomous vehicles, but I would say that Singapore is very formulated in terms of (developing) autonomous vehicles. It also puts a lot of money, effort and resources to make it happen.
"This is where Singapore stands out."
Volvo signed its partnership with NTU to develop driverless electricity-powered buses in January last year. As part of the deal, the firm provided two buses fitted with autonomous driving technologies.
Mr Agnevall said that Volvo has invested $4 million so far in the trials, with the additional amount spent on technology development on the bus "much, much more" than $4 million.
Despite having spent a significant sum, Volvo would continue investing in Singapore. "There is a great future in this cooperation. It is highly strategic for Singapore and for Volvo as a group," Mr Agnevall added. "We are very much looking forward to continuing and deepening the cooperation." A report by research house Fitch Solutions Macro Research on Monday said that Singapore is now a step closer to autonomous vehicle adoption, with the publication of provisional national standards to guide the development and roll-out of autonomous vehicles. The standards, termed as Technical Reference 68 (TR 68), were published by Enterprise Singapore in January. They aim to promote the safe deployment of fully autonomous vehicles in Singapore. In its report, Fitch said: "We believe that this clear set of standards will support the development of autonomous vehicles, as it will create targets for autonomous vehicle technology developers to reach and will seek to eliminate a lot of the risk and uncertainty surrounding this technology.
"Furthermore, it will attract more developers to Singapore, as they will be able to operate the vehicles in a real world environment which will support their development of this tech." In a separate report released last month, consulting firm KPMG International said Singapore is second in the world behind the Netherlands, and first in Asia in its readiness to adopt autonomous vehicles. This was judged based on four criteria - policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.
STOCKHOLM, December 28 -- The state broadcaster SVT’s coverage of the double murder of 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and 28-year-old Maren Ueland by Islamists in Morocco has sparked a fury of criticism.
Besides running an article that the savage murder of the two Scandinavian girls “had nothing to do with Islam”, they also pushed the narrative that sharing of the graphic video of the murder is illegal, warning Swedes not to share the video as that is punishable with up to four years imprisonment.
Scores of viewers complained that SVT was more concerned by people sharing the video of the killing, than they were with the horrific murders, themselves. As well, they failed to mention the ISIS style execution by beheading, instead reported the murder from “neck wounds”.
Some who made the decision to watch the video admitted it was a poor choice, regretting having seen it. Svenska Dagbladet columnist Ivar Arpi stated on his Facebook page:
”Happened to watch the movie clip that is being circulated. The one where one of them gets her head cut off. I wish I could unsee it. I’ve seen many horrible things. For a while I felt a responsibility as a journalist to see the movie clips that Daesh released. Still, this was much worse. It is the worst I have ever seen. It will haunt me”, he also referred to the murderers as “beasts”.
STOCKHOLM, December 6 -- A team from Yemen's Saudi-backed government left for Sweden on Wednesday to attend peace talks with members of the Iran-aligned Houthi group, in a renewed U.N. push to end a war that has pushed the country to the brink of starvation.
One representative of the internationally-recognised government, Abdullah al-Alimi, tweeted that the talks were "a true opportunity for peace," before the delegation flew out of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - leaders of a Western-backed coalition battling the Houthis to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government - want to exit a war that has dragged on for nearly four years. Western allies, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, have ramped up pressure on them to find a way to end a conflict that killed tens of thousands of people and left more than 8 million facing famine.
The Saudi-led alliance intervened in the civil war in 2015 after the Houthi movement ousted Hadi's government from the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2014. But the conflict has seen military stalemate since the alliance seized the southern port of Aden. The conflict is seen across the region as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim power Riyadh and Shi'ite Tehran. Seeking to reinvigorate peace efforts, U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths secured some confidence-building measures, including the evacuation of Houthi wounded, to help persuade the movement to attend the talks in Sweden. The Houthi delegation arrived there on Tuesday, having failed to turn up for previous talks in Geneva in September.
TRUCE, PRISONER SWAP
The latest round, to be held in a renovated castle outside Stockholm, will focus on agreeing other confidence-building steps and the formation of a transitional governing body. It was not clear if the warring parties would hold direct talks or if Griffiths would shuttle between the two sides. "If the consultations proceed positively, we will see an immediate change for people in Yemen. We will see fewer people hit by and fleeing violence, fewer people pushed to the most desperate means of staying alive," said Mohamed Abdi, Yemen country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council.
"Equally, if the consultations fail, or stall, so too will hopes of halting Yemen's steady descent into hell," he said in a statement. The U.N. envoy is seeking agreement on reopening Sanaa airport, swapping prisoners and securing a truce in the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah, now a focus of the war. This could lead to a wider ceasefire that would halt coalition air strikes and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities. The United Nations is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen's commercial goods and aid. Both sides have reinforced positions in the Red Sea city in sporadic battles after a de-escalation last month.
International outrage over the Oct. 2 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate has refocused attention on the Yemen war and scrutiny over Saudi Arabia's activities in the region. The U.S. Senate is set to consider a resolution to end support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The United States last month halted refuelling support for coalition warplanes, whose air strikes have been blamed for the deaths of thousands of civilians.
STOCKHOM, November 27 -- Saab has received an order to deliver its Carl-Gustaf M4 multi-role weapon system to the Slovenian armed forces, the company announced on 22 November.
The Carl-Gustaf M4 is the latest version of the portable, shoulder-launched, multi-role weapon system. The new version’s major enhancements over the previous systems includes a lighter weight design (less than 7kg), a round counter, improved safety and intelligent features, such as compatibility with future intelligent sighting systems and programmable ammunition.
Görgen Johansson, head of Saab business area Dynamics, said: ‘The Slovenian order is further proof that Carl-Gustaf M4 is the number one multi-role weapon on the market. We are happy to introduce the Slovenian armed forces to Saab’s Carl-Gustaf M4 with outperforming capabilities and high tactical flexibility, and we feel confident that the end user will be satisfied.’
Deliveries of the system will take place during 2018-2020.