WikiLeaks and those perfidious Swedes
I should come clean at the outset; I've been to Sweden. Twice, actually. Although both were school holidays in the dim and distant past - staying with the good friends of my Mum and Dad whose existence I feel I must own up to in the interests of full disclosure - I still have warm memories of the country. Stunning scenery, very friendly locals most of whom spoke great English and I went on my first-ever roller coaster there; that final revelation alone surely being enough to show why I think fondly of the country and its people.
But, and in order to stress my objectivity, not all of my Swedish memories are great. On the first trip, family Pemble got caught in the worst rainstorm of any of our lives. Rain drops were bouncing back above my (admittedly not that tall) 10-year-old head and I was literally soaked to the skin. On the second trip, our home got burgled; something I (illogically I admit) still blame the Swedes for (because that was where we were when our neighbours phoned with the bad news) as opposed to the unfriendly Dundonians who actually committed the crime. And, worst of all, in 1987 IFK Gothenburg beat Dundee United in the final of the UEFA Cup, denying the boys in tangerine our best shot at European glory.
And I imagine most people probably have favourable impressions of the place. It's seen as liberal and tolerant of minority rights, with excellent health and education systems as well as a generous welfare state and a hard-won reputation for neutrality in its foreign policy. The reaction of Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden's Prime Minister and leader of the very Swedish-sounding Moderate Party, to the recent car bomb in Stockholm, seems to sum the place up quite well: "We must safeguard the open society where people can live together side by side".
It is also (along with Denmark and New Zealand) ranked as the least corrupt country in the World. To quote from the Heritage Foundation's freedom index report:
"Corruption is perceived as almost nonexistent. Sweden tied with Denmark and New Zealand for 1st place out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2008. Comprehensive laws on corruption are fully implemented, and Sweden has ratified the 1997 OECD Anti-bribery Convention. The constitution and law provide for public access to government information."
What's more, it has incredibly strong laws protecting press freedoms, which Julian Assange has acknowledged is why WikiLeaks hosts its servers there in the first place (although it does have to be said the main base for the server looks like a Bond villain's lair).
All of which makes me question the conspiracy theories about the attempt to extradite Mr Assange. Mark Stephens, Mr Assange's solicitor (who is, like me, qualified to practise in England and Wales, countries rated as being less transparent and more corrupt than the one he is resisting Mr Assange's extradition to) has said that "It is unlikely that even if convicted Assange will go to jail, so in those circumstances one has to ask oneself why are the Swedish authorities so dead-set that he will spend Christmas in jail? Do they have the genes of Scrooge?" Another supporter, the writer Tariq Ali, has gone further suggesting that "The Swedes are acting on behalf of a bigger power".
Am I the only one who thinks these allegations are somewhat harsh on Sweden and its citizens? All the evidence suggests it's just not that sort of place.