WikiLeaks claims the arrest is an attack on media freedom, but it is worth pointing out that one of the claimants making the sexual assault allegations has strongly denied that the charges are trumped up, saying: “The charges against Assange are of course not orchestrated by the Pentagon.”
News Story highlights:
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was denied bail Tuesday on a rape charge in Sweden as financial and legal pressures mounted over the website’s publishing of secret documents.
- He has been remanded in custody by a British court over allegations of sex crimes in Sweden.
- WikiLeaks vows to keep releasing cables despite Assange’s arrest.
- In court to support him were film-maker and journalist John Pilger, socialite Jemima Khan and film director Ken Loach. Each offered $32,000 as surety bound.
- Mr Assange’s lawyer and the judge insisted the assault case had nothing to do with WikiLeaks and should be judged on its own merits.
- But the huge media presence underscored the global interest in the case, as did the appearance in court of Pilger, Loach and Jemima Khan.
- They each offered 20,000 pounds ($32,000) surety for his bail, despite Ms Khan and Loach admitting they did not know him personally.
- “I know him by reputation,” Loach told the court, adding about WikiLeaks: “I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those who govern us.”
- Pilger said he knew Mr Assange personally “and I have a very high regard for him”.
- “I’m here today because the charges (allegations) against him in Sweden are absurd.”
- He dismissed the Swedish prosecution as a “travesty”.
The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, has been arrested by London police on behalf of Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape. The Metropolitan Police Extradition Unit confirmed at 10.30am London time (2030 AEDT) that the 39-year-old Australian had been arrested “by appointment” on a European Arrest Warrant an hour earlier. The Swedish warrant cites one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape – all allegedly committed in August this year.
According to the Guardians report WikiLeaks will continue releasing the leaked US embassy cables in spite of the arrest this morning of its founder, Julian Assange, over allegations in Sweden of sexual offences. The whistleblowers’ website has made arrangements to continue publishing the classified documents, the airing of which has embarrassed the US government.
The leaked cables have provided a daily flow of revelations about the superpower’s involvement in the most sensitive issues around the world, including those affecting Iran, Afghanistan and China. The decision to press on will help allay fears among Assange’s supporters that his arrest would hobble the organisation’s work. Assange has also pre-recorded a video message, which WikiLeaks is due to release today. But the Guardian understands the organisation has no plans to release the insurance file of the remaining cables, which number more than 200,000. It has sent copies of the encrypted file to supporters around the world. These can be accessed only by using a 256-digit code.
Assange and his lawyers, Mark Stephens and Jennifer Robinson, attended a London police station at 9.30am today, by appointment. The 39-year old Australian was arrested under a European arrest warrant. He is wanted by Swedish authorities to face one charge of unlawful coercion, two charges of sexual molestation and one charge of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010.
“Officers from the Metropolitan Police Extradition Unit have this morning arrested Julian Assange on behalf of the Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape,” said a spokesman for Scotland Yard. “Julian Assange, 39, was arrested on a European arrest warrant by appointment at a London police station at 9.30am.” In the last 24 hours, coverage of the content of the cables has been overtaken by interest in Assange’s apparently unrelated legal tussle with Swedish prosecutors. Assange strongly denies any wrongdoing.
Stephens yesterday said the issue could be summed up as a “dispute over consensual but unprotected sex”. The charges have changed several times since they were first levelled by two women on 20 August in relation to events over the weekend of 13 August. Swedish prosecutors initially dismissed the allegations of one of the women but the country’s director of public prosecution, Marianne Ny, reopened the case. On 18 November, Stockholm’s district court approved a request to issue an international and European arrest warrant, which itself was disputed by Assange’s legal team.
Mr Assange’s British lawyer, Mark Stephens, says he will fight against extradition.
“I am very, very concerned about the political interference that there appears to have been in this case,” he said.
“There are things that are going on and I think that we’re not seeing the whole picture yet.” But the Swedish prosecutor who brought the sexual misconduct case against Mr Assange said it was a personal matter and not connected with his work releasing secret US diplomatic cables.
“I want to make it clear that I have not been put under any kind of pressure, political or otherwise,” Marianne Ny, a director of prosecution, said in a statement.
“Swedish prosecutors are completely independent in their decision-making. “The criminal investigation has nothing to do with WikiLeaks. It concerns him personally. “There are no foreign authorities which have asked to be informed. Only journalists and private people have sought information.” US Republican congressman Pete King, the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for Mr Assange to be extradited to the US. “Sweden is obviously a democracy and they have the right to pursue whatever legal acts they have against Assange,” he said.
“But ultimately, and really sooner rather than later, I think it’s important that he be extradited from whatever country he’s in to the United States because his conduct to me clearly violates the US Espionage Act.
It should also be pointed out of course that Assange strenuously denies the sex assault charges. The New York Times reports on how the US have been going after Assange over the separate issue of the leaked cables.
Justice department prosecutors have been struggling to find a way to indict Assange since July, when WikiLeaks made public documents on the war in Afghanistan. But while it is clearly illegal for a government official with a security clearance to give a classified document to WikiLeaks, it is far from clear that it is illegal for the organisation to make it public. The Justice department has considered trying to indict Assange under the Espionage Act, which has never been successfully used to prosecute a third-party recipient of a leak. Some lawmakers have suggested accusing WikiLeaks of receiving stolen government property, but experts said Monday that would also pose difficulties.
“Don’t shoot messenger”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defended his Internet publishing site on Wednesday, saying it was crucial to spreading democracy and likening himself to global media baron Rupert Murdoch in the quest to publish the truth.
Assange’s op-ed piece in the Australian has been published. The paper says these are the main points:
• WikiLeaks is fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public. • The dark days of corruption in the Queensland government before the Fitzgerald inquiry are testimony to what happens when the politicians gag the media from reporting the truth. • (My idea is) to use internet technologies in new ways to report the truth. • People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. • The Gillard government (Australia) is trying to shoot the messenger because it doesn’t want the truth revealed.
It is worth quoting Assange’s final remarks in full:
The US diplomatic cables reveal some startling facts: the US asked its diplomats to steal personal human material and information from UN officials and human rights groups, including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, credit card numbers, internet passwords and ID photos, in violation of international treaties. Presumably Australian UN diplomats may be targeted, too. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the US officials in Jordan and Bahrain want [sic] Iran’s nuclear program stopped by any means available. Britain’s Iraq inquiry was fixed to protect “US interests”. Sweden is a covert member of Nato and US intelligence-sharing is kept from parliament. The US is playing hardball to get other countries to take freed detainees from Guantánamo Bay. Barack Obama agreed to meet the Slovenian president only if Slovenia took a prisoner. Our Pacific neighbour Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to accept detainees. In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US supreme court said “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government”. The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth.
Another key paragraph from Assange’s Australian article:
Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.