Founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, was arrested in London Tuesday on Sweden’s charges of sex offences, amid continuing ruckus over his site’s recent release of secret documents.
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said Assange was arrested on a European arrest warrant, issued by Swedish authorities, at 9.30 am after he voluntarily arrived at a London Police Station. The charges against Assange include "one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010," London police said in a statement.
After appearing in court later on Tuesday, Assange was denied bail by the judge who said: "There are substantial grounds to believe he could abscond if granted bail."
Assange, who has until now remained in hiding, denied the charges, claiming they have been trumped up to undermine his work. His organization’s recent disclosure of US diplomatic cables has sent shockwaves through the global diplomatic community and made Assange the focus of Washington’s discontent.
However, a WikiLeaks spokesperson has told the Associated Press that the organization does not plan to suspend its work as a result of Assange’s arrest.
"This will not change our operation," Kristinn Hrafnsson said.
Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, told reporters on Tuesday his client was preparing to “vindicate himself to clear his good name.”
Assange is now facing another hearing on December 14, when he plans to fight his extradition to Sweden.
Civil rights activist Liam Hanlon from Assange's native Australia says there is an ulterior motive behind the possible extradition.
“Just look at the facts, how often does Interpol go after people on sex-related charges? It’s unheard of for Interpol to be chasing people on charges related to sexual offences, so I think that it’s completely politically motivated. The Swedish prosecutors dropped this case two months ago, and now they just picked it up again after the latest release. I think there’s a very good chance that the American government is behind this,” Hanlon says. “No doubt that if he [Julian Assange] gets extradited from Sweden to the US I have no doubt whatsoever that his rape charges will disappear and he will be facing espionage charges in the US.”
Meanwhile, hackers have been attacking the websites of Swedish prosecutors and international payment systems that have blocked donations to WikiLeaks, such as PayPal and Visa, with credit card giant MasterCard the latest to suffer.
The leader of Sweden's Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge, says there is an unprecedented information war going on online.
“There is a war going on on the Internet right now, with both factions trying to silence the other, which ironically is quite the opposite of the freedom of expression that WikiLeaks is fighting for,” he said. “It has been called the first serious information war. It’s been fought with new weapons and in a new arena, but it’s still a battlefield. The prosecution site in Sweden has been attacked, Visa has been attacked, MasterCard, PayPal, Twitter – basically everybody who has somehow been seen as politically opposing WikiLeaks has been attacked in the past few days…. It’s very, very intense on the Internet right now.”
Australia's foreign minister has said that poor American security, and not Assange, is to blame for the recent leaks of US diplomatic cables.
And independent journalist Antony Loewenstein in Sydney says that even if Assange is silenced, there will be others.
“The truth is that if you knock out WikiLeaks or Julian Assange tomorrow, someone will replace them,” he said. “The genie is out of the bottle now. The hope that I have is that many people will see the example of what WikiLeaks has done, and they’ll be more interested in doing something similar.”
Investigative journalist Charlotte Aagaard says the fact that Assange was arrested shortly after his organization leaked the Washington cables makes for a suspicious coincidence.
“The charges that were brought against Assange in the summer were withdrawn after just 24 hours,” Aagaard noted. “It seems that there was some kind of a proof problem. Now the charges have been brought back. It is an interesting coincidence that it happened just a few weeks after the release of the diplomatic cables, which was very inconvenient for a lot of Western governments, not just the US.”
Dr James Danselow, security analyst from King's College London, says it is very unusual for a man to be accused of having consensual sex, but not necessarily using a condom, and suddenly finding himself on the same Interpol list alongside senior Mexican drug lords.
The US is after the founder and public face of WikiLeaks, aiming to discredit and dismantle the entire operation, “hoping the entire pack of cards will collapse beneath it,” Danselow said, adding that is why America is now “enlisting the support of other countries and of major international banking networks and internet hosts.”
Meanwhile, Rick Falkvinge, the leader of the Pirate Party in Sweden, which campaigns for transparency, explained to RT what will happen if either WikiLeaks or its founder are silenced for good.
“The WikiLeaks website will continue to run,” he said. “It’s currently got 750 copies worldwide up and running, there is simply no way to take them all down. However, WikiLeaks has threatened that if something happens to the organization or Mr. Julian Assange, hundreds of thousands of copies of some sort of encrypted information has been spread throughout the world – it’s encrypted, nobody knows what’s inside it, but in case of something happening, a password will automatically be sent to these people, who will see what’s inside the package.”