Arts, Culture & Media

Wikileaks founder Assange refused bail

The founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has told a British court he will fight extradition to Sweden. Bail was refused and the Australian, who denies sexually assaulting two women in Sweden, was ordered to remain in custody pending a hearing next week. Assange told a court in London he would contest extradition. Clark Boyd reports. Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks website, was arrested this morning in Britain. Later in the afternoon, he appeared before a London judge for an initial hearing on possible extradition to Sweden, where Assange faces counts of sexual assault against two women. Assange told the court that he intends to fight Sweden's extradition request. The judge denied Assange bail, and the man behind the whistle-blowing website left for jail in an armored car, as supporters chanted �political prisoner.� �Many people will come forward to stand for Mr. Assange,� said his British lawyer Mark Stephens just after the hearing. �Many people believe Mr. Assange to be innocent, myself included. And many people believe that this prosecution is politically motivated.� Stephens was referring to the furor that has erupted since WikiLeaks began releasing a set of secret U.S. State Department cables on November 28. The organization, which shared the files before-hand with major global news outlets including the New York Times, says that only a few hundred of some 260,000 cables have been released so far. The cables have angered not only the Obama Administration, but many governments around the world. Julian Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, told the BBC today that the speed with which his client had been arrested made him wonder if someone else was �pushing Sweden to act this way.� �Everything has gone very fast,� Hurtig told the BBC, �much faster than I've ever seen in any case.� When pressed, Hurtig said he thought the United States was behind it, but, he said, he had no proof of that. Assange's supporters worry, though, that if he should be extradited to Sweden, he might then be immediately extradited to the United States. �The US could turn up and turn and serve an extradition request any moment after his arrival in Sweden,� says Ben Cooper, a lawyer who has been helping another British man, Gary McKinnon, fight extradition to the United States for several years. But before the United States could ask for Assange's extradition from a third country, charges would have to be brought in US Federal court. Right now, US Attorney General Eric Holder will only say of the WikiLeaks case: �We have a very serious criminal investigation underway, and we're looking at all the things we can do to stem the flow of this information.� US officials have centered their attention Private Bradley Manning � a low-ranking intelligence officer who is thought to have downloaded the cables and thousands of other files from secure US computer systems, and then passed the information on to WikiLeaks. What's not at all clear is whether the anti-espionage laws that might apply to Manning for leaking the files are applicable to the organization who published them. �The practical possibility of suppressing leaks is just very difficult, technologically and legally,� says Jeffrey Rosen, a professor at George Washington University. �Even if Wikileaks were ordered to take down the information, these proxy sites, the mirror sites, would ensure that the same information sprung up in other places. And there would also be complicated jurisidictional quesitons about how all of them could be gone after. So, some have described it as a game of whack-a-mole. If you successfully go after Assange, the same information would come up in other places.� Today, WikiLeaks vowed to continue to release more cables. �We are operational,� said one spokesperson. �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.� The challenges, though, appear to be mounting. Amazon.com, PayPal and Visa have cut off commercial cooperation with WikiLeaks. The website relies on credit card donations. And yesterday, a Swiss bank froze an account held by Assange that collects those donations. In an on-line chat a few days ago, though, Assange promised that if anything happened to him, or to Wikileaks, �key parts� of the cables will be released automatically. For his part, the judge hearing the case today reminded onlookers that the case before the court has nothing to do with WikiLeaks, but is about �extremely serious allegations � of serious sexual offences.�

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