The mind behind the world’s largest, most accessible library sat alone without so much as a magazine to keep him company. Once called the resident boy genius of The Pirate Bay, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg is now isolated from the world he helped to connect. Bounced from Cambodia to Sweden to Denmark since he was arrested nearly a year and a half ago, he sees the inside of a court once again this Wednesday.
The 30 Second Recap & Why We Care
Gottfrid lived quietly, but by no means secretly, for several year in Cambodia. But in August 2012, with little in the way of legal proceedings, he was taken out of his home and deported to Sweden where, he was finally made to complete his one year sentence for the Pirate Bay.
Gottfrid has gotten many supporters through his work on the Pirate Bay, where he was known as Anakata, as well as for his less-famous work on WikiLeaks’ video Collateral Murder. But now, it’s not his work for transparency or free culture that’s a cause for concern – it’s the shady legal dealings surrounding his case…
Let’s Start Off On The Wrong Foot, Shall We?
Although he was so seriously ill (and in hospital!) that he could not attend the Pirate Bay appeal (local or Supreme Court), Sweden finalized the guilty verdict and his one year sentence. This left him no chance to defend himself like his fellow founders. When he was swooped up out of Cambodia (right after a totally coincidental, absolutely-unrelated-so-please-just-forget-it-already $50 million donation from Sweden) for unrelated charges, he was deposited in prison to serve out the TBP sentence without so much as a final appeal to exhaust.
Now, with his Pirate Bay sentence over and done with, Gottfrid is still locked away, facing charges of hacking companies in Sweden and Denmark…
Legal Déja Vu
While serving his Pirate Bay time, Gottfrid went to trial in Sweden over allegedly hacking into personal information at the IT company, Logica, and the scandinavian bank Nordea. Although he was first convicted of the charges, half were later dropped because prosecutors couldn’t prove he actually controlled the computer that was used in the break-in.
Despite this, and despite expert testimony supporting the court’s conclusion, the legal mess wasn’t over yet: Denmark decided to pursue it’s own case, complete with disturbing similarities to that which was already dismissed. This is how Gottfrid comes to be sitting in a Danish prison, awaiting a trial once more…
Treated Like A Violent Offender
It is not just the legal specifications of his case that cause suspicion, but also the prison’s treatment of Anakata. Solitary confinement greeted him on arrival in Denmark. Without even a jacket, he was unable to take the daily one hour outside that prisoners are allowed. Inside his cell no mail or books were allowed to help him pass the time. His lawyer, a former prosecutor, was shocked at the treatment, usually reserved for violent offenders. Prosecutors argued that Gottfrid could tamper with the case if given even a bit of comfort in jail – a watery excuse, considering he’d been under better conditions for months in Sweden and not given anyone cause for concern.
His isolation was not physical only – even normal social contact with the outside world, like the letters and reading material usually allowed to inmates, were denied him for a long time. Danish police claimed they could not read (or apparently could not find a single person to translate) English or Swedish letters, and that magazines such as The Economist could contain secret messages. Even textbooks for his studies in advanced mathematics were withheld long after he arrived at the prison…
Too Little… But Not Too Late!
Restrictions on Gottfrid’s prison conditions lifted somewhat after outrage finally reached the ears of the Danish authorities. Now, he may have his books (only 10 at a time, however), and receive his magazines subscriptions. He was even allowed to buy a Playstation 2 from the prison commissary, and he has some time to be with other inmates and to visit with his mother.
Social isolation is a punishment that leaves very real scars on its victims. Even though the long term – sometimes permanent – effects on the human psyche are well documented, solitary is still used by many countries that otherwise eschew torture. That Gottfrid is no longer subject to this is good news.
The fact that he was treated in this harsh manner to begin with is a cause for deep suspicion.
While isolation may be used as a safety precaution for inmates who pose a threat to other prisoners, Gottfrid is not in prison for violent offenses, and has not been accused of being a danger to other inmates. It is clear, therefore, that his isolation was not a safety issue – it was punitive. For any civilized country, pre-trial punishment is an abominable practice, which is why we must exercise vigilance in observing this case and hold accountable any responsible for ethical lapses.
Pirate, Activist… And Human Being
Although Gottfrid is accused of serious hacking charges (never mind Denmark’s suspicious use of discarded evidence) he remains one who has contributed greatly to the world and demands our support.
To be clear: Anakata has served his time for the Pirate Bay, and the case ahead of him now is not related to his activism. For my part, I do not have the expertise or the closeness to the case to evaluate his guilt or innocence. However, it is fair that he should have a fair trial, the opportunity to defend himself, and treatment befitting a free country.
As the drama from the Pirate Bay case and Collateral Murder fade, it is more than ever important to remember that someone who has contributed so much to the world remains behind bars. Many of us are indebted to this man. And guilty or innocent, hacker or pirate, activist or not - due process is for everyone. We owe Gottfrid our continued support and vigilance in securing his rights.