Julian Assange's legal team under fire for naming rape accusers

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The Independent Online

Legal representatives of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange came under fire today for inadvertently publicly naming two women who claim he raped them.

Solicitors acting on behalf of the 39-year-old suspect included the details in legal documents posted on their website after he appeared in court.

The 35-page skeleton argument outlined why the former computer hacker should not be extradited to Sweden.

It was intended for reporters but ended up being circulated widely on the internet, with at least one national newspaper posting a link directly to it.

Campaigner Katrin Axelsson, of Women Against Rape (WAR), criticised the decision to release their names.

She said the right of rape victims to remain anonymous is as crucial as a defendant's right to be presumed innocent.

Rape victims are automatically granted lifetime anonymity in British courts under the Sexual Offences Act.

But the two women remain in Sweden and are not protected by British law.

They have been the subject of a torrent of speculation and comment in numerous online blogs and on social networking sites.

Mark Stephens, who represents Assange, said the names were removed after he realised the document was being circulated beyond the media.

He said: "The position is that the person who made the decision to name the women was Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor.

"She put their names in the European Arrest Warrant, which is a public document, and she could have anonymised them."

He added: "We put up the skeleton, which did name the women originally, because we thought it was only for the press.

"It was not intended for public consumption. When a newspaper linked to it we suddenly realised they were encouraging members of the public to go to it.

"We thought about whether it was appropriate to name the women or not. We took the view we were not legally obliged not to, but we took the decision that we would anonymise them."

Assange will return to Belmarsh Magistrates' Court on February 7 for a two-day hearing to challenge his extradition to Sweden.

He fears that he could be taken on to the United States, where he could face detention in Guantanamo Bay and even the death sentence.

Assange sparked international fury by publishing some of 250,000 leaked United States diplomatic cables.

Ms Axelsson added that members of WAR fear the rape allegations are being "manipulated" for political purposes.

She said: "The rape allegations against Julian Assange have become entangled with the politics centred on WikiLeaks.

"In the last few months this has led to the publication on the internet of the names of the women involved, and to a call for women who report rape to lose their anonymity.

"Rape victims' right to anonymity and defendants' right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are both crucial.

"We oppose the use of rape for political agendas which undermine protection and justice for both rape victim and accused."