Julian Assange Needs A Qualified Interpreter, ‘Allegations Must Be Communicated In A Language He Understands’

Julian Assange is scheduled to be questioned on November 14 by Swedish prosecutors over claims he sexually assaulted two women in 2010, according to the New York Times. The founder of WikiLeaks and his former lawyer, Mark Stephens, made various requests to ensure the allegations made against Assange are clearly communicated to him in a language he understands, according to the Independent. The need for a qualified interpreter was emphasized by Julian’s former solicitor, John Jones. During a previous interrogation of Assange, a website that is highly referenced by WikiLeaks revealed the previous interpreter was not authorized by Kammarkollegiet, a relevant public authority in Sweden.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds up a document during a press conference. [Image by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images]

“In relation to the state of play in Sweden, it is important for the court to be aware of the background to this. [Julian] Assange has made repeated requests that the allegations against him be communicated to him in a language he understands. That has been ignored by the Swedish prosecutor. Another Swedish prosecutor dropped this case early on for lack of evidence and it was resurrected in Gothenburg rather than Stockholm.”

Suzan Kern, an immigration lawyer at Hunton & Williams LLP and former freelance interpreter, discussed the importance of an interpreter, according to the DCBar.

“Individuals… need to understand that the interpreter is the nexus among all of the parties, and if the interpreter is not competent, it can render everyone incompetent. Nationally, there is a great need to take action and increase the pool of qualified and certified interpreters because it does affect the entire country’s ability to carry out its own work.”

A struggle to communicate between parties could have serious consequences. For example, In South Sweden, the word for “yes” is “ja.” In North Sweden, instead of making an audible sound through your vocal chords, it’s extremely common for the word “yes” to be implied by a sharp inhale of the breath, according to the Daily Mail.

This is kinda scary: What if the interpreter asks Julian a question and he deeply inhales, and it’s interpreted as a “yes”?

Christina Voigt, an experienced prosecutor who was involved in a Swedish case that utilized an interpreter, is not surprised when told the interpreter in her case drastically shortened the victim’s statement, according to The Local.

“It happens… Sometimes, for example, we are very surprised when a long statement is translated as a simple yes or no.”

The inconsistencies can result in huge discrepancies between police files and statements made while in court. An interpreter can also run the risk of introducing inaccuracies and can potentially alter the course of the trial, according to the website Utah Courts.

“Different interpreters translate differently, and the real words get lost on the way.”

A courtroom interpreter’s role is to provide an unbiased and accurate translation that captures the complete and literal meaning of each person’s speech, according to the website Utah Courts. On Kammarkollegiet, the national directory of interpreters has a full list of qualified interpreters in Sweden. According to the website, there are two kinds of interpreters:

  • Authorized interpreters have passed an advanced professional examination and are subject to the supervision of Kammarkollegiet. In some languages, there are authorized interpreters with special authorization such as health care interpreters or court interpreters.
  • Trained interpreters have completed a program organized by a Higher Education Institution or with the support of the Swedish National Agency for Higher Vocational Education (Myndigheten för yrkeshögskolan).
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Julian Assange outside the Ecuadorian embassy. [Photo by Frank Augstein/AP Images]

Also, interpreters should never interject their own words, phrases, or expressions, according to the website Utah Courts. In some cases, words that are technical or use specialized terminology are unfamiliar to the interpreter.

Joakim Von Braun, a former adviser to Säpo, believes there are espionage cells working as interpreters who spy on asylum seekers, according to The Local.

“Joakim Von Braun, a former advisor to the Swedish Security Service (Säpo), believes there are still espionage cells working in sensitive government offices and as interpreters who are actively spying on defectors and asylum seekers.”

Kern discussed an interpreter’s role and the skills needed for the task, according to the website DCBar. A qualified interpreter must not have any contact or relationship with any of the parties involved in the case, or it would be considered a conflict of interest.

“Most people think of interpretation as just word substitution, but it’s so much more than that because you’re not translating words, you’re translating meaning. In many instances, you’re interpreting cultural import, and you have to have a little cultural understanding. It takes a lot of skills to be an interpreter, and that takes training and technique.”

Assange’s current lawyer is relieved Julian will have a chance to clear his name on November 14, according to The Guardian.

“Julian Assange has always wanted to tell his version to the Swedish police. He wants a chance to clear his name.”

The publisher of WikiLeaks is a political refugee who is currently under the protection of the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Criticizing Swedish authorities involved with the case, Stephens, Julian Assange’s former lawyer, said, “It’s a persecution, not a prosecution,” according to the Independent.

The idea of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being delivered into American custody by Swedish officials frightens many supporters. The U.S. Justice Department could charge the anti-government-secrecy activist with espionage offenses over WikiLeak’s release of classified U.S. files, according to NBC News. According to the Independent, there are several right-wing American politicians who are pressing for Julian’s prosecution and even execution.


The Telegraph reported Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, questioned why Julian is not being pursued with the same urgency as al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The U.S. has not executed a person for espionage since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1952, according to The Atlantic.

John Pilger, who offered to pay bail, said Assange’s work is an act of public service.

“I think the work he has done has been a public service. I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those that govern us.”

Allegations Made Against Julian Assange:

The Swedish government seeks Julian’s extradition for alleged sexual assault against two women in 2010. That same year, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Assange. There are two separate allegations — one of rape and one of molestation, according to BBC. The most serious potential charge of rape against Assange does not expire until August 2020.

Even if the rape allegation is dropped, British police could still arrest Julian for violating the terms of his bail agreement when he sought asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

District Judge Riddle stated the severity of the case, according to the Independent.

“This case is not, on the face of it, about WikiLeaks. It is an allegation in another European country of serious sexual offenses alleged to have occurred on three separate occasions and involving two separate victims. These are extremely serious allegations. From that, it seems to me that if these allegations are true, then no one could argue the defendant should be granted bail… If they are false, he suffers a great injustice if he is remanded in custody. At this stage in these proceedings, the nature and strength of the allegations are not known.”

[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]