Anti-rape campaigners have reacted with horror after George Galloway became the latest supporter of Julian Assange to claim that the sexual assault allegations against him should not be considered rape.
In a video podcast which immediately sparked outrage, the Bradford MP and notorious polemicist suggested that sex without consent should not always be thought of as rape, if a woman has previously consented to what he called "the sex game". He added that Mr Assange was merely guilty of "bad sexual etiquette".
Mr Galloway's comments were delivered in a 30-minute defence of the WikiLeaks founder, which he released online as part of his weekly podcast series "Goodnight with George Galloway". Twenty minutes in, he turns his fire on the rape allegations Mr Assange is facing in Sweden, stating that it should be acceptable to have intercourse with a sleeping woman if she had previously consented to sex.
"What I am going to say is going to be controversial, because somebody has to say this," he said. "A reign of intellectual terror has descended on this subject. Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100 per cent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don't constitute rape. At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it. And somebody has to say this." He then turns to the case of "Woman A", one of Mr Assange's two accusers, who claims he forcibly had sex with her without her consent without wearing a condom. "Woman A invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him. Claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know," Mr Galloway said.
He added: "I mean, not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them."
Mr Galloway joins the ranks of prominent supporters of Mr Assange. Monty Python star Terry Jones has tweeted his support by attacking Sweden's rape laws and incorrectly stating that the charges would not be considered a crime in Britain.
"Having had consensual sex with a woman once does not give a man licence to then have sex with her again at any time and in any way he pleases and assume consent is given," said a spokeswoman from Rape Crisis. "Mr Galloway's description of such sexual violence as 'really bad manners' is offensive and deeply concerning."
Sarah Green, from the End Violence Against Women Coalition, added: "The Assange case has revealed some very worrying attitudes to sexual violence among many commentators as to what constitutes 'real rape'."
Last night the hacker group Anonymous claimed to have hacked into the websites of the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Work and Pensions and Number 10 as a gesture of support for Assange. A spokesman for the MoJ confirmed the website was suffering "disruption" but would not say why. The other websites appeared unaffected.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers across South America yesterday called for dialogue between the UK and Ecuador to resolve the row over Mr Assange's extradition.
George's gospel: In his own words
"Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100 per cent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don't constitute rape."
"Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them."
"It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, "do you mind if I do it again?". It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape."