UK lawmaker criticized over Assange rape comments

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Associated Press

Posted on August 21, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 21 at 9:30 PM

LONDON (AP) — Two lawmakers on different sides of the Atlantic were lambasted by women's rights campaigners and colleagues on Tuesday after making contentious comments about rape.

British lawmaker George Galloway was chastised by the leader of his own political party over his claim that sex crime allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange do not constitute rape.

It drew some parallels to U.S. congressman Todd Akin, who has faced calls to quit as the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri following comments he made in an interview aired Sunday by St. Louis television station KTVI.

Galloway, a leftist political outsider who represents the anti-war Respect party, attempted to defend Assange in a video blog posted Sunday, saying that accusations against him showed "bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape."

Assange has fought for two years to avoid extradition to Sweden to be questioned over allegations of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and rape made by two women. For the last two months, he has been hiding out in Ecuador's Embassy in London, where he is out of reach of British authorities.

"Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100 percent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don't constitute rape. At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognize it," Galloway said in the video. "It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning."

Akin has faced pressure to abandon his U.S. Senate race from some Republicans following his comments Sunday. Asked if he would support abortions for women who have been raped, Akin said, "It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

In Britain, Rape Crisis, a charity, said Galloway's description of the accusations faced by Assange was "offensive and deeply concerning."

Jo Swinson, a lawmaker with the Liberal Democrats, a party in Britain's governing coalition, demanded that Galloway "apologize and retract his comments immediately."

"I am appalled that a member of Parliament could be so grossly irresponsible as to suggest that sex without consent is anything other than rape," she said.

Salma Yaqoob, leader of the Respect Party, said Galloway's remarks on "what constitutes rape are deeply disappointing and wrong."

Assange was accused of sex offenses during a trip to Sweden in 2010 as his WikiLeaks website began publishing its huge cache of American secrets — including 250,000 U.S. Embassy cables.

One woman accuses Assange of intentionally damaging a condom during sex. A second woman claims he had sex with her while she was asleep, which can be considered rape under Swedish law.

Assange denies wrongdoing and has said the sex with the women was consensual.

Galloway, who was expelled from the country's Labour Party in 2003 for urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq and lost his seat in Parliament in 2010, returned to the House of Commons in a special election in March.

In a statement Tuesday, Galloway defended his remarks and insisted that Assange's actions would not constitute rape in Britain. However, British courts have rejected that claim in Assange's appeal hearings.

Assange and his supporters claim the Swedish case is merely the first move of a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the U.S. for his work with WikiLeaks. Swedish authorities dispute that claim.

"This has all the hallmarks of a set-up," Galloway said in his statement.

The U.S. State Department on Monday accused Assange of making "wild assertions" about U.S. persecution to deflect attention from the sex allegations.

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