Sweden has never refused an extradition request by the US and is expected to help facilitate the process. The Swedish police pursued the allegations in 2010 soon after WikiLeaks began publishing huge amounts of classified documents.
However, in a society where crimes against women are often ignored and trivialised such allegations cannot be dismissed and should be properly investigated. This is more important than ever in the context of, for example, US Republican senate candidate Todd Akin's reference to "legitimate rape". It is important for socialists to reject any idea that some rape does not need to be taken seriously.
Assange, however, should have the right to defend himself without the fear of political persecution or extradition to the US. There is little doubt that Assange stands no chance of receiving a fair trial if he is taken to the US.
This is not only because of the fundamentally undemocratic laws that would be used against him, but also because of the baying for Assange's blood by right-wing politicians and the media. The severe treatment of whistleblower-soldier Breanna Manning (formerly known as Bradley) is a taste of what Assange could expect.
History shows a pattern of whistleblowers and those who stand up to imperialism facing allegations of racism or of sexual violence. Craig Murray, who exposed the US support for torture in Uzbekistan, referred to various cases on Newsnight. He was accused by the Foreign Office of expediting visas for sexual favours and it took him 18 months to clear his name.
Such cases must be investigated - so many will ask why the Swedish investigation cannot be carried out in the Ecuadorian embassy - showing both a serious approach to rape allegations and that there is no other motive on the part of the Swedish state.
But Assange and WikiLeaks more generally are being persecuted because WikiLeaks exposed many important facts about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the corporate domination of politics and the secretive, anti-democratic nature of capitalist governments. Many of the leaks reveal the double standards and blatant lies of world leaders.
The controversy over Assange's situation has pushed to one side the content of the leaks themselves. WikiLeaks has lifted the lid on a rotten system. Alongside defending that organisation, the task now is to use this information to build a mass movement that is capable of effecting social change.
Only by replacing capitalism with a democratic socialist society can we really guarantee full freedom of speech, accountability, openness and an end to imperialist wars.
This article has been slightly amended since publication in issue 730 of the Socialist.