Rights Activist Attacks Ethics of Swedish Courts, Media

Andrew Kreig / Project Director’s Blog

As Swedish authorities push for a secret trial of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a noted human rights activist has repeatedly challenged the oft-praised fairness of his nation’s legal system and its media coverage. Dr. Marcello Ferrada de Noli built an illustrious career as a medical school professor after enduring torture in his native Chile. But he has worked almost tirelessly in his spare time for the past two months to expose what he regards as complacency among his fellow Swedes regarding the human rights abuses in his nation’s all-out effort to capture Assange, ostensibly because of sex allegations filed by a politically connected lawyer.

The professor says he has documented that investigative reports by the Justice Integrity Project and the prominent author Naomi Wolf about Assange are among those prevented from display in reader comments at major Swedish newspapers. Meanwhile, the U.S. military has imposed new and barbarous pre-trial punishment on Assange’s alleged accomplice, Army Pvt. Bradley Manning. This fuels suspicions that the Sweden and the United States are secretly collaborating to frame the two suspects as part of a pan-national crackdown on government whistleblowers – even as Western powers boast of their “Internet Freedom.” Secretary of State Clinton boasted of the importance of freedom at a recent university speech even as security personnel arrested, bruised and bloodied a silent, motionless peace protester in the audience, retired CIA officer Ray McGovern. In theory, Swedish authorities want to ask Assange once again about reports of sex misconduct with two women who invited him to sleep with them during his visit to Sweden last summer. A United Kingdom judge ordered Assange, held without bond, extradited to Sweden to answer the questions in Swedish proceedings that will be secret, according to the country’s norms. The judge brushed off allegations of a potential vendetta against Assange, saying European authorities could address any irregularities if they occur. Assange’s lawyers are appealing the ruling, with the appellate decision expected shortly.

For Ferrada de Noli, however, the irregularities in the unprecedented Interpol manhunt to capture Assange for another round of questioning are already shocking. The case is so unusual that the doctor has published on his “Professors blogg” website since last fall many investigative commentaries. Furthermore, he has observed, tested and exposed what he describes as a plot by powerful figures in the mainstream Swedish media working behind the scenes to limit public questions about their nation’s courts, including blocking reader attempts to cite columns by Wolf and our Project. His study of why and how this occurred entitled, “Does Sweden Inflict Trial by Media against Assange?”

The professor undertook his study with no staff and on a rushed basis because of fast-moving legal proceedings. He holds a Ph.D. in psychiatry from the Karolinska Institutet. A professor emeritus there in Public Health Sciences, he was formerly a research fellow in social medicine at Harvard Medical School. Currently, he is senior advisor at the Department of Immunology at Stockholm University. His introduction to his study is:

Svenska dagbladet, a main Swedish newspaper, illustrated its 17 Feb 2011 article “Idyllic picture of Sweden is darkened” with a montage showing the notorious criminal Göran Lindberg – a world-reviled, convicted serial rapist (including the rape of a 14-year old child) – portrayed together with Julian Assange and his lawyer Mark Stephens. A conspicuous columnist of the newspaper Aftonbladet refers 13 Feb 2011 to Julian Assange as “a paranoid idiot who refuses come to Sweden to confront trial”. The competitor newspaper, Expressen, describes 13 Feb 2011 in its cultural page “the sexual pleasure of Mr Assange is just an inescapable element for his severe compulsive needs that are beyond….”

To assess such reports, this article presents an empirical statistical analysis of Swedish media reports regarding the Assange case. We describe hostility by the Swedish media to Assange raising questions about the journalists’ mental state, and as well as questions about self-censorship by prominent Swedish media. We must question also why Swedish journalists employed by traditional media act so uniformly. Finally, we scrutinize whether the frequently claimed freedom of expression by Swedish newspapers can be compatible with blocking opinions viewed as contradicting conventional wisdom, such as exposing reasons for Sweden’s official antagonism towards Assange and WikiLeaks.

Who in the Swedish media is deciding to filter the links of articles to admit certain blogs and censure others? What are the criteria? Is it the newspaper publisher or the journalist who is authoring the newspaper article? Or is it the Internet Service company providing the link from the blogosphere?

Going to the gist of the matter, he continues:

The questions arise from a recent article in Sweden by the prominent American writer and journalist Naomi Wolf (12/2). The main Swedish newspapers refused to link to her article, creating further international embarrassment for the Swedish media beyond the facts of the Assange case. Her article analyzed the proceedings against Assange published as a guest-contribution in the Sweden-based Professors blog, established 2005 and edited by this author.

A longtime feminist and volunteer rape counselor, Wolf courageously criticized Swedish authorities for pursuing such an unusual investigation so aggressively quoted extensively my report on the Huffington Post in December that former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove’s clients have included Sweden’s governing conservative party. In doing so, she provoked cheap shots from other feminists who argued that she should defer to the judgment of Claes Borgström, the lawyer seeking Assange’s prosecution on claims of unprotected sex. Her essay, however, noted the political context of the case based on such reports as my Huffington Post article in December, “Rove Suspected In Swedish-U.S. Political Prosecution of WikiLeaks.” Later, I reported in Connecticut Watchdog, “Partner at Firm Counseling Assange's Accusers Helped the CIA In Rendition for Torture.”  The piece described how Thomas Bodström, partner in the firm Borgström &  Bodström pursuing Assange, cooperated with the CIA when he was Sweden's Minister of Justice in the successful rendition of two men from Sweden to Egypt, where that regime tortured them.

The professor raises important questions about how the traditional media have congruent interests with government leaders, particularly in covering Internet-enabled media that bypass traditional gatekeepers in the media and government. Ferrada-Noli and the Justice Integrity Project have each succeeded in republishing our political investigations in Sweden on such Internet-based independent news sites in Sweden as The Swedish Wire, News 24 and The Local that appear to be more independent of the pressures in a highly-charged political case. The phenomenon is apparent on both sides of the Atlantic, as indicated by the Wolf essay published originally on the Huffington Post and March 3 on Professors blogg: "WikiLeaks, Revolution, and the Lost Cojones of American Journalism."

“Sweden used to enjoy a selective, well-cultivated journalist body,” Ferrada-Noli concludes. “The creepy and accomplice silence of the media is devouring the soul of a country otherwise dignified by its beauty, its ethics, and its peace.”

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment



Below are selected articles on legal reform and political, security and media factors. The articles contain a sample of news. See the full article by visiting the Project home page's section on News Reports, and clicking the link.


Appendix: Recent Coverage

Professors blogg (Sweden), Have Swedish Pirates Betrayed Assange? Dr. Marcello Ferrada de Noli, March 6, 2011. The massive losses in membership recently reported in the Swedish Pirate Party (PP) present a sad prognosis for their political growth and influence.  In view of this analysis, PP may have  lost much support and prestige while distancing themselves from the cause of Julian Assange, thus obtaining the opposite result than the one expected, apparently according to an opportunist estimation. My appeal for support to the Assange cause is not motivated in the "fear" that Assange would really risk a negative outcome from the part of a Swedish court.  The peril is, however, in another level. First, that Phase-Sweden II would entail the extradition, legal or illegally, to the USA or to another country. I have myself been imprisoned in similar conditions accused of subversive activity, before and under Pinochet’s dictatorship. I do know what I am talking about. That you do not know about a happening does not mean that the event has not actually occurred, or that it may happen again. Sweden DOES HAVE a recorded praxis of extraordinary renditions.

Salon Unclaimed Territory, Bradley Manning's forced nudity to occur daily, Glenn Greenwald, March 5, 2011. The treatment of Manning is now so repulsive that it even lies beyond what at least some of the most devoted Obama admirers are willing to defend. It's long been clear that the Obama administration is subjecting Manning to this treatment in order to break him and thus induce the type of incriminating statements they need to build a conspiracy case against their real targets: WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.   Moreover, the Obama administration's unprecedented obsession with deterring and punishing whistle-blowers is undoubtedly motivating much of this punitive conduct as well.  Whatever the motives, charging a whistle-blower with a capital offense of "aiding the enemy," sticking him for almost a full year in repressive solitary confinement, and then forcing him to remain nude in captivity, is the type of abusive detainee treatment that caused substantial political controversy during the Bush years.  Now, by stark contrast, the silence is deafening.

Washington Post, In brig, WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning ordered to sleep without clothing, Ellen Nakashima, March 2011. Military jailers are forcing Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old soldier accused of passing classified documents to WikiLeaks.org, to strip naked in his cell at night and sleep without clothing, a requirement his lawyer says was imposed after Manning made a "sarcastic quip" about his confinement.

InfoTorg Law, Julian Assange’s British lawyer defends his Swedish colleague, Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli, Feb. 25, 2011.In an exclusive interview, Assange lawyer Mark Stephens, left, tells InfoTorg Law that he believes that a United Kingdom judge unfairly criticized Assange's Swedish laywer in order to justify extradition.

Emptywheel/FireDogLake, A Narrative Chronology of Bradley Manning’s Alleged Leaks, Marcy Wheeler, March 5, 2011. Here’s what the government appears to believe happened.

Daily Kos, Anonymous Will Avenge Manning, Barrett Brown, March 3, 2011. The decision to charge Bradley Manning with a capital offense in addition to other charges is a provocation and Anonymous is set to respond accordingly.

Guardian (United Kingdom), Julian Assange lodges extradition appeal, James Meikle, March 3, 2011. Lawyers representing the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, have lodged papers to appeal against his extradition from Britain to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. The high court in London confirmed it had received documents to challenge the ruling made at Belmarsh magistrates court, south London, last week.

The Local (Sweden), Assange lawyer under investigation in Sweden, March 2, 2011. Julian Assange's Swedish lawyer Björn Hurtig is under investigation by the Swedish Bar Association following accusations made by a British judge during the WikiLeaks founder's extradition trial. In releasing his ruling last week that Assange should be extradited to Sweden, District Judge Howard Riddle accused Hurtig of deliberately misleading the court, calling him "unreliable". Riddle also claimed that Hurtig, who was called to testify at the trial by his client's British legal team, had purposefully given faulty information about how many times Swedish prosecutors tried to contact him.

NewsCore (Australia), Accused WikiLeaks source Manning stripped, left naked in military cell, lawyer says, March 4, 2011. The lawyer representing the US Army Private accused of sharing classified documents with WikiLeaks claims his client was stripped of his clothes and left naked in a cell for seven hours. David E. Coombs wrote about the incident at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia, where Pfc Bradley Manning has been held since July, in an entry on his website, the New York Times reported. "This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification," Mr Coombs wrote. "It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. Pfc Manning has been told that the same thing will happen to him again tonight."

Huffington Post, Hillary Clinton Calls Al Jazeera 'Real News,' Criticizes U.S. Media (VIDEO), March 3, 2011. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Al Jazeera is gaining more prominence in the U.S. because it offers "real news"--something she said American media were falling far short of doing.