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Abbott accused of playing down Assange rape allegations

CRITICISED: Diane Abbott

DIANE ABBOTT has been accused of playing down accusations of rape and sexual assault made against Julian Assange.

The shadow home secretary has said the WikiLeaks founder is being targeted for releasing “embarrassing information” about the US military and security services.

During an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Abbott said: "We all know what this is about. It's not the rape charges, serious as they are.

“It's about Wikileaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services."

When asked about the allegations of rape that had been made against Assange, Abbot said the “charges were never brought...it’s not [about] the rape charges”.

Responding to comments about the charges having not been brought against Assange, QC Daphne Romney tweeted: "The assertion that 'no charges were brought' is simply misleading because it suggests that there was never any substance to the charges.

"Charges come at a later stage in Swedish law. What matters is that one charge has now become time barred. The other was not pursued because he was holed up in the embassy."

Assange was arrested yesterday after spending almost seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, which he retreated to to avoid extradition to Sweden in relation to the sexual assault charges that were eventually shelved.

His arrest was on the grounds of breaching bail and could see him imprisoned for up to 12 months.

He also faces extradition to the US on charges of conspiring to hack into a classified Pentagon computer.

Abbott's comments have attracted criticism from those who believe she has sought to play down the serious accusations.

Anna Soubry, who left the Conservative Party in February to join the Change UK, formerly The Independent Group, tweeted: “Shame on you @HackneyAbbott your pal #Assange holed up in an Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape & sexual assault. He’s no hero & the failure of @jeremycorbyn & #DianeAbbott to stand by the women who have made those allegations is disgraceful.”

Conservative MP James Cleverly wrote on Twitter: “So in Diane Abbott’s opinion, does the sisterhood only matter if it doesn’t cut across her political worldview?

“Is the message to victims of sexual violence ‘you will be believed, unless it involves a left wing icon’? I really hope not.”

But Abbott also received support for speaking out.

Yanis Varoufakis, an economist and former Greek minister of finance, said: “Well said Diane Abbott: ‘Julian Assange is not being pursued to protect US national security, he is being pursued because he has exposed wrongdoing by US administrations and their military forces.”

“Thanks for being bold on this. You are absolutely right,” one commenter tweeted.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on the government to block Assange’s extradition to the US.

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