Julian Assange Arrested in Britain Over Swedish Sex Charges [Updated]

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Photo: Splash News

Officers from Scotland Yard's extradition unit arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Britain today based on a Swedish warrant on suspicion of rape. The arrest unfolded per a prior agreement between authorities and Assange, who voluntarily turned himself in. According to a statement from British police, Assange has been “accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010.” The charges stem from two women who both say that their sexual encounters with Assange began as consensual but became nonconsensual after he stopped using a condom. Assange and his lawyers continue to deny the allegations, insisting that the accusations have been trumped up as retaliation for his connection to WikiLeaks. At a court hearing this morning, Assange was denied bail and ordered to remain in custody until the next court session on December 14. During the hearing, WikiLeaks tweeted, "Let down by the UK justice system's bizarre decision to refuse bail to Julian Assange. But #cablegate releases continue as planned."

British tabloid The Daily Mail takes a detailed look at the chain of events that led up to the Swedish sex charges, based on unnamed sources and leaked police reports, and concludes "the allegations simply don’t ring true."

When asked during the hearing whether he consented to extradition to Sweden, Assange replied that he did not consent. Mark Stephens, Assange's British lawyer, previously indicated that Assange might resist on the grounds that he could be interviewed either by video from Stockholm or at the Swedish embassy in London. Stephens says the extradition request is politically motivated, though Assange's legal team has yet to offer proof of a connection. According to Stephens, the Swedish prosecutor has not made clear "what the allegations are [Assange] has to face and also the evidence against him, which he still hasn’t seen." If Assange is extradited to Sweden under the European arrest-warrant system, which could happen quickly under a fast-track procedure, he'll be vulnerable to extradition requests from other governments as well, including the U.S.

With Assange now in custody, the Obama administration is in a difficult position. Attorney General Eric Holder has already made clear his interest in pursuing espionage charges against Assange as part of its ongoing investigation. But Assange has his own looming threat over governments that seek to pursue criminal charges against his whistle-blowing website. In a Q&A with the Guardian on Friday, Assange claimed that 100,000 people were given access to the entire archive, containing 251,287 encrypted diplomatic cables. “If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically.” Indeed, as a preemptive warning yesterday, WikiLeaks released a list of infrastructures around the world critical to U.S. security.

Meanwhile, a plea from Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate's Intelligence Committee, that Assange be prosecuted under the Espionage Act offers a potential clue as to how the U.S. intends to proceed.

In an op-ed in The Australian today, Assange cited Rupert Murdoch, of all people, in support of WikiLeaks's mission that facts should be made public. Assange cites an appeal Murdoch made for transparency in support of his father, who published an exposé that Australian troops were being sacrificed by incompetent British commanders. Wrote Assange, "In 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s The News, wrote: 'In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.'"

Britain Arrests WikiLeaks Founder in Sex Inquiry [NYT]
The Wikileaks sex files: How two one-night stands sparked a worldwide hunt for Julian Assange [Daily Mail UK]
Prosecute Assange Under the Espionage Act [WSJ]
`The truth will always win’ - Julian Assange writes [Australian]