Prosecutor may face probe over Assange rape claim

The Swedish prosecutor who issued a warrant for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been reported for violating confidentiality rules.

Duty prosecutor Maria Häljebo Kjellstrand made the decision to issue papers for the arrest of Assange in absentia on charges of rape and sexual molestation, when she was on call on Friday. She later confirmed that the decision had been taken to Swedish newspaper Expressen.

The warrant was withdrawn just hours later, and rape charges dropped.

Swedish newspaper Dagens Juridik today revealed (in Swedish) that Kjellstrand has been reported to the Swedish Prosecution Service by independent due-process watchdog Rättssäkerhetsorganisationen (RO). A further report can be found in English here.

According to the organisation, the prosecutor violated the confidentiality of preliminary police investigations by confirming certain details with the media. A number of Swedish newspapers, including popular daily Svenska Dagbladet, have said that the prosecutor's confirmation played a major role in their decision to publish the allegations.

RO Chairman Johan Binninge told Dagens Juridik: "We believe that the matter has been handled extremely badly for all parties involved and we are highly critical of how quickly one has taken the decision to detain a person."

"From an investigative standpoint, it is a disaster to go out in public this way, which can only harm the investigation. A prosecutor must also take into consideration all parties involved, including the suspect, and consider the consequences of a particular intervention for the suspect, in this case, an internationally known person," he added.

Assange, who is currently on holiday in northern Sweden, hit out at the allegations via WikiLeaks' official Twitter account, saying: "The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing."

Gavin MacFadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and a friend of Assange, told reporters: "The charges are made and then withdrawn and the damage is done."

Assange initially blamed US sources directly for the charges, saying he had been warned by insiders in the Australian secret service about the likelihood of a smear campaign being conducted against him in retaliation for the recent publication of 76,000 classified documents concerning the Afghanistan war on the WikiLeaks web site.

WikiLeaks has in its possession another 15,000 papers which it intends to publish in the coming weeks.

In spite of Assange's arrest warrant being withdrawn, prosecutors have insisted the charges were "not a mistake", and an investigation into allegations of molestation continues.

One of the two women involved told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet on Sunday that she had never intended Assange to be charged with rape. She was quoted as saying: "It is quite wrong that we were afraid of him. He is not violent and I do not feel threatened by him."

She confirmed that sexual relations had been consensual, but added: "The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who had attitude problems with women."

Sources close to the woman said that disagreement had arisen over Assange's willingness to use condoms.