After seven years of attempting to bring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on rape charges, Swedish officials announced Friday that the nation was dropping its investigation.
Assange has stayed at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, when he first sought asylum to avoid being extradited for the sexual assault allegations. On Friday, Assange emerged on a balcony at the embassy to address news media about the announcement.
"While today was an important victory and important vindication, the road is far from over," Assange told journalists. "The proper war is just commencing."
Julian Assange is currently wanted by the U.S. and U.K. governments for crimes related to the sexual assault allegations as well as his role in leaking classified U.S. documents through his website.
The Australian national became a household name in 2010 when his website published documents leaked by American soldier Chelsea Manning. Julian Assange's case in Sweden began in August 2010, a month after he leaked more than 90,000 documents, when two former WikiLeaks volunteers said they had been assaulted by Assange during sexual encounters.
The WikiLeaks founder has insisted that the sex was consensual, saying both women participated eagerly and did not appear to be uncomfortable.
However, according to the women, the sex started as consensual, but turned forceful, particularly when Assange allegedly tore or removed a condom without informing the women and continued penetration. Witnesses said the two women told friends privately about the encounter, including Assange's refusal to wear a condom and forceful behavior.
One woman's statements say Julian continued to stay uninvited in her home after a sexual encounter that left her uncomfortable, rubbed himself against her while naked and ultimately made her shelter at a friend's house in an effort to avoid him. Assange disputes her report, saying they had consensual sex and that he stayed with her afterwards with her consent.
According to the women's' allegations, after they compared stories, found similarities and began police initiations, the news was leaked to the press and Julian began claiming it was an attempt by the U.S. government to smear his character.
Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny said the case was not dropped because of lack of evidence, but rather due to a lack of success in capturing Assange. "I can conclude, based on the evidence, that probable cause for this crime still exists," she told reporters Friday, but said that "at this point, all possibilities to conduct the investigation are exhausted."
The U.K. still has a warrant out for Assange's arrest should he leave the embassy for failing to appear in court. Assange said it was "extremely regretful" that warrants for his arrest remained in place in Britain, but said that he would attempt to engage in a dialogue to drop the charges.
During his public address on the balcony, he did not mention the women involved in the rape case. However, he did address the recent news of Manning's release. Manning left prison Wednesday after a 35-year sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in one of his final acts in office.
Julian Assange described her release as a victory. Earlier this year, he made headlines when he said he would agree to U.S. extradition if Manning was granted clemency; however, he has made no follow-up statements regarding the promise, while Obama granted Manning clemency soon afterwards.
In April 2017, officials told CNN the Department of Justice was preparing charges for Assange related to the document leaks. Attorney general Jeff Sessions has stated that Assange's arrest remains a priority. On the balcony, Assange said such a move is "not acceptable," adding that WikiLeaks would continue to publish documents and that the United States was silencing his right to free speech.
[Featured Image by Jack Taylor/Getty Images]