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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was released on bail Thursday — confined to a supporter's 600-acre estate but free to get back to work spilling U.S. government secrets on his website as he fights Sweden's attempt to extradite him on allegations of rape and molestation.
The silver-haired Australian, who surrendered to British police Dec. 7, will have to observe a curfew, wear an electronic tag and report to police in person every day.
But there are no restrictions on his Internet use, even as U.S. authorities consider charges related to thousands of leaked diplomatic cables and other
But no one knows that for sure. Some observers worry that there is a subterranean current of sexual violence running beneath Sweden's seemingly placid public image. (Swedish crime fiction, for example, is famous for its lurid descriptions of sexual violence - the literal translation of the Swedish title for the first book in Stieg Larsson's popular Millennium trilogy is Men Who Hate Women.) In a report in 2007, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women wrote, "While the equal opportunity agenda has paved the way for significant advances in the public representation of women ... the Swedish experience is less effective in countering the unequal power relations between women and men in the private sphere, thus resulting in the normalization of violence." Indeed, it's not just police reports that paint a troubling picture. A government survey in 2001 found that almost half of the women who responded said they had been the victim of a violent or sexual assault by a man since their 15th birthday.
Concerned particularly about the low rates of conviction following rape reports, the government launched a three-year program in 2007 designed to educate elements in the criminal-justice system on how to more aggressively pursue rape claims, since victims often drop their charges out of fear, shame or loyalty to the accused. And in 1998 and 2005, the definition of rape in Sweden was broadened to include, for instance, forcing sex through the threat of violence and having sex with a sleeping or unconscious woman. (Comment on this story.)
It is under this wider definition of the word that police wish to question Assange. Police reports state that the allegations against Assange center around claims by two Swedish women who say that on separate occasions each had consented to have sex with Assange, but that sometime during or after the encounter, he engaged in sexual behavior against their will. According to the Swedish branch of Interpol, a recent arrest warrant for Assange states that the rape accusation stems from a sexual encounter in which the woman "was asleep and in a helpless state." There is also a sexual-molestation allegation based on claims that in a different incident, "the pair [were] sleeping naked together and the suspect [pushed] his naked erect penis into her body." And prosecutors also want to question Assange in relation to the suspicion that he sexually coerced one of the women by "lying on top of [her], using his weight to prevent her from moving, and forcefully spreading her legs," and that he sexually molested both women by "having sex without the use of a condom, without the woman's knowledge."
No one could have predicted that Assange would become one of Sweden's most wanted when he traveled to the country in August to hold a series of lectures on WikiLeaks and received a rapturous welcome. According to Thomas Mattsson, editor of the Swedish daily Expressen, the nation's affinity for Assange came naturally: Swedes share his love of technology and his belief in open government. But Mattsson says Swedes have another passion that is equally important. "We are very moral in terms of how well-known and powerful men may behave with women in all kinds of situations, romantically or professionally," he says. (See TIME's video "WikiLeaks Founder on History's Top Leaks.")