Wikileaks founder Julian Assange refused bail


Julian Assange being driven into Westminster Magistrates' Court  Julian Assange surrendered himself to police in London

The founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has told a court he will fight extradition to Sweden.

Bail was refused and the Australian, who denies sexually assaulted two women in Sweden, was remanded in custody pending a hearing next week.

A judge at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court refused bail because of the risk of Mr Assange fleeing.

A Wikileaks spokesman said Mr Assange’s arrest was an attack on media freedom.

Mr Stephens said after the court appearance he would be applying again for bail.

He also claimed the charges were “politically motivated” and he pointed out the judge had said he was keen to see the evidence against Mr Assange.

Kristinn Hrafnsson said it would not stop release of more secret files and told Reuters on Tuesday: “Wikileaks is operational. We are continuing on the same track as laid out before.

“Any development with regards to Julian Assange will not change the plans we have with regards to the releases today and in the coming days.”

Secret locations

He said Wikileaks was being operated by a group in London and other secret locations.

Five people, including journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the sister of Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, stood up in court offering to put up sureties.

But District Judge Howard Riddle refused bail for fear Mr Assange would flee the country and he was remanded in custody until 14 December.

Gemma Lindfield, for the Swedish authorities, gave details of the allegations against Mr Assange.

One of the charges is that he had unprotected sex with a woman, identified only as Miss A, when she insisted he use a condom.

Another is that he had unprotected sex with another woman, Miss W, while she was asleep.

Mr Assange, who was accompanied by Australian consular officials, initially refused to say where he lived but eventually gave an address in Australia.

Scotland Yard said Mr Assange was arrested by appointment at a London police station at 0930 GMT.

Police contacted his lawyer, Mark Stephens, on Monday night after receiving a European arrest warrant from the Swedish authorities.

An earlier warrant, issued last month, had not been filled in correctly.

Mr Assange has come in for criticism in the last week for the revelations made on Wikileaks.

On Monday Foreign Secretary William Hague criticised the website for publishing details of sensitive sites, including some in the UK, saying they could be targeted by terrorists.

Former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has described Mr Assange as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

Wikileaks was forced to switch to a Swiss host server after several US internet service providers refused to handle it.

It has also come under cyber attack and several companies, including PayPal and Amazon, have refused to supply it.

On Tuesday another company, Visa, also suspended all transactions involving Wikileaks.

Extradition can be extremely swift if the accused waives his legal rights.

But some cases, such as the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon to the United States, have been going on for years because of legal challenges.

A European arrest warrant is designed to speed up the process but there can be delays.

Last week a district judge finally agreed to extradite British businessman Ian Griffin to France, 18 months after he was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend in a Paris hotel. Mr Griffin had been claiming he was mentally ill.

Gerard Batten, a UKIP MEP, said the Assange case highlighted the dangers of the European arrest warrant, because the judge has no power to listen to the evidence to judge if there is a prime facie case.

He said: “What concerns me is that it could be used against political dissidents. I don’t know of the quality of the evidence in Mr Assange’s case but it does seem that he is involved in political turmoil and intrigue and there are a lot of people keen to shut him up and there is nothing a court in the UK can do to look at the evidence before they extradite him.”

Mr Assange is an Australian citizen and his supporters have written an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, asking her to protect him.

One of the signatories, prominent barrister Julian Burnside QC said: “First and foremost Julian Assange is an Australian citizen who is entitled to the protection of his country and does not deserve to be betrayed by his country.

“Julia Gillard has been making it virtually impossible for Assange to return to Australia where he is entitled to be. And she has even threatened to cancel his passport. That is an outrageous stance to take.”

His words were echoed by Mr Pilger, who is also Australian, who said the threat to remove his passport smacked of “totalitarianism”

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