One reason the Julian Assange case is difficult to understand is because of errors in translation. Add to this willful misrepresentations, rumours and flat out lies. There is no doubt in my mind that Julian Assange is charged in the full English understanding of the term. Charges have been brought but he has not yet entered a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”. The reason: he has fled Sweden to avoid entering a plea.
On numerous occasions we have heard Julian Assange say that he is not charged with any crime. For English speaking people that means Julian Assange will be detained by three Swedish courts without a charge. I can understand why so many English speaking people question Sweden’s legal system since it is unlawful to detain a person without a charge. In fact, this is also true even so in Sweden. The reason Julian Assange can claim that he is not charged with a crime is due to a simple but important error in translation. In this post I will give a proper translation so everybody will understand the legal situation in order to fully understand that Julian Assange is, in fact, charged.
The error in translation in this case started from very early on. Julian Assange’s lawyers looked in a dictionary and noticed that the word charge is translated into “åtala” in Swedish. What has happened since is just more people have looked into more dictionaries and seen the same thing. Groupthink at work. Everybody just looked in the wrong direction. It is correct that Julian Assange is detained but not yet “åtalad” in Sweden. Since he is not “åtalad” people believe he is not charged. I will show this is the error in translation.
If you use a dictionary when you are translating you will only get as good a translation as the dictionary is. If the dictionary contains errors you get errors in translation.
In order to properly translate legal terms you have to look at the legal procedure in one country and then compare it to the same (similar) legal procedure in another country. It is only when you know the context that you can make a proper translation. In this case, almost everybody has looked the wrong way, to the dictionary. I will point you in the right direction, to the procedures, and the error in translation will be clearly visible.
The examples below are simplified and are not strictly according to the letter of the law. I want to show the different parts of the procedures and what they are called in Swedish and English.
In England, as in Sweden, it is illegal to arrest and keep a person for an extended time without a charge. Normally when you are arrested you are charged within 24 hours or released. Does this mean as soon as you are arrested in England you are “åtalad”? No it does not. It is not correct to translate the word charged into “åtalad”. Charge has a much wider definition than “åtala”. “Åtala” actually means to formally charge, to indict. Knowing this we all understand that being arrested and charged in England does not mean being arrested and indicted in a court of law.
Let’s look at the procedure in Sweden using the Swedish words. You cannot be “anhållen” (arrested) without being ” misstänkt för brott” or “anklagad för brott”.(suspected of a crime or accused/charged with a crime). You cannot be “häktad” (detained) without being “misstänkt för brott” or “anklagad för brott”. The Swedish police are not allowed to arrest people and keep them for extended time without a charge, “en misstanke om brott eller en anklagelse om brott”. Just like in England. It is evident that charge in English is corresponding to “misstanke, anklagelse om brott” in Swedish.
Let’s look at a procedure in England. A person is accused of a crime. The police initiates an investigation. The person is interviewed. If suspicion increases he may be arrested and charged (on suspicion of a criminal offense). The investigation continues. Later the person might be detained or released on bail. Further investigation. If there is not enough evidence the charges are dropped, the person is cleared of suspicion. On the other hand, if there is enough evidence to suspect the person is guilty of having committed a crime the prosecutor will make charges and then the plea will be entered at some future point. A decision to indict may follow. As one can see, in the English procedure the decision to indict comes at a late stage, after the investigation. Until the person is cleared or indicted he is just charged.
In fact, the procedure is very similar in Sweden. A person is “anklagad, misstänkt” for a crime. The police starts to investigate. The person is interviewed. If suspicion increases he may be “anhållen and misstänkt”. Investigation goes on. Then the person is “häktad and misstänkt”. The investigation continues. If there is not enough evidence “avskrivs misstankarna”, the person is cleared of suspicion. On the other hand, if there is enough evidence to suspect the person is guilty of having committed a crime the person is investigated further. It is not until the suspect in a final interview is asked for his opinion of the charges that the prosecutor will make a decision if a person is to be “åtalad”, indicted. The decision to indict comes at a late stage, after the investigation (förundersökning), just like in England. Until a person is “åtalad” he is just “misstänkt” (suspected).
As shown the procedures in England and Sweden are similar. In both jurisdictions a person has to be charged in order to be arrested and detained. We just use different words. English and Swedish words. If we make a proper translation there are no problems. Problems arise only with errors in translation. Translating charge into “åtala” is such an error.
If Swedes would look at the English legal procedure using incorrect translations they would be disgusted to find that everybody that is arrested is always “åtalad”, indicted. As soon you are accused of a crime the police makes an arrest and you end up in court, what a horrible system. People familiar with the English system and the English meaning of a charge sees nothing wrong in the procedures.
Problems in the Swedish language
In a previous post I have shown that Swedish is a very indirect and implicit language. More like a code language. We don’t say what we mean, we don’t use the proper words. We let words represent a different concept than their true meaning and we assume other Swedes understand what we mean. Since we don’t use the proper words it is very difficult for foreigners to understand what we really mean. It is evident in this case. Arrested and charged should be translated into “anhållen” and “anklagad”. Now we use the words “anhållen” och “misstänkt”. (misstänkt is suspected). I fully understand that it is difficult for English speaking people to understand that Swedes say suspected and mean charged. The worst part is that Swedish people don’t understand it themselves.
“Anklaga” in Swedish is translated into charge or accuse. So we should use the word “anklaga”. But then we end up in another typical Swedish language problem. The word “anklaga” has many synonyms. One is “åtala” (formally charge, indict, prosecute). My understanding of Swedish is that this is absolutely wrong. In order to make “anklaga” synonymous with “åtala” the word has to appear in a context. “Anklaga i domstol” (charge/accuse in a court of law) is synonymous with “åtala”.
What does all of this mean for Julian Assange?
There is no doubt that in Sweden Julian Assange is arrested in absentia and charged (accused of rape, unlawful coercion and two counts of sexual molestation). Julian Assange has not yet been asked to enter a plea. Saying anything else is incorrect based on an error in translation.
Does the error in translation in any way change any of the verdicts in this case? No. The English Judges have had an intuitive understanding of the legal situation even if they were fed rubbish translations from the defence.
I am very surprised that no one yet has pointed out this simple but very important error in translation. It is beyond my imagination that no one at Åklagarmyndigheten (Prosecutors’ Office) have not been able to sort this out in the two years of legal wrangling that has been going in in front of an astonished international audience. And where are the Swedish Governments legal experts? I am also surprised that the legal experts around the world haven’t figured it out. My hat is off to English Judges. There is something in a wig after all.
I am not a lawyer but I have verified the above with a Swedish Judge and other legal experts. I have been involved in sales most of my life. Trying to figure out mostly what Swedish people really mean when they use strange words and concepts. Maybe it helps in understanding that the Swedish legal language is not that clear after all and that there is one serious error in translation in this case.
An endnote in Swedish.
Anklaga har många synonymer:
beskylla, förebrå, klandra, tillvita, ge skulden, utpeka, ange.
Sen finns också följande synonymer som jag anser är felaktiga:
åtala, åklaga, sakföra, stämma.
De senare orden är endast synonymer om de förekommer i ett annat sammanhang:
anklaga i domstol.
Att det är på detta sättet är enkelt att förstå. Jag kan anklaga väldigt många juridiskt kunniga att de inte kan göra en korrekt översättning av charge och charged.Jag klandrar dem, jag förebrår dem, jag utpekar dem och jag ger dem skulden för att det blivit mycket fel i fallet Assange. Men jag åtalar dem inte.