UK judge denies Assange bail, forced to stay in jail

Assange denies sexual molestation accusations; WikiLeaks spokesman says organization would continue revealing US diplomatic secrets .

December 7, 2010 18:18
3 minute read.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

311_Julian Assange. (photo credit: Wikicommons)

LONDON — A British judge jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday, ordering the leader of secret-spilling website behind bars as his organization's finances came under increasing pressure.

Assange showed no reaction as Judge Howard Riddle denied him bail in an extradition case that could see him sent to Sweden to face allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion.

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Assange denies the accusations and has pledged to fight the extradition, while a spokesman for his organization said the US diplomatic secrets would keep on flowing — regardless of what happened to the group's founder.

"This will not change our operation," Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Associated Press ahead of Assange's hearing. As if to underline the point, WikiLeaks released a cache of a dozen new diplomatic cables, its first publication in more than 24 hours.

Assange appeared before City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in London after turning himself in to Scotland Yard earlier Tuesday, capping months of speculation over an investigation into alleged sex crimes committed in Sweden over the summer.

Assange and his lawyers claim that the accusations stem from a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex" in Sweden in August, and have claimed the case has taken on political overtones. Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny has rejected those claims.

Riddle asked the 39-year-old Australian whether he understood that he could consent to be extradited to Sweden. Assange, dressed in a navy blue suit, cleared his throat and said: "I understand that and I do not consent."

The decision to fight the extradition could be difficult. Extradition experts say that European arrest warrants like the one issued by Sweden can be tough to beat, barring mental or physical incapacity. Even if the warrant was defeated on a technicality, Sweden could simply issue a new one.

Despite a US pursuit after Assange for the Wikileaks release of classified cables, claims that the sexual allegations against Assange are made up were strongly denied by one of the claimants, who was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "The charges against Assange are of course not orchestrated by the Pentagon."

Assange's website, meanwhile, came under increasing financial pressure Tuesday — with both Visa and MasterCard saying they would block payments to the controversial website.

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, Visa Inc. said it was taking steps "to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks' website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules."

MasterCard sent a similar statement, saying it would suspend payments "until the situation is resolved."

The move chokes off two important funding avenues for WikiLeaks, a loosely knit group of activists who rely on individual donations to fund their operations.

PayPal Inc., a popular online payment service, has already cut its links to the website, while Swiss authorities closed Assange's bank account on Monday, freezing several tens of thousands of euros, according to his lawyers.

WikiLeaks is still soliciting donations through bank transfers to affiliates in Iceland and Germany, as well as by mail to an address at University of Melbourne in Australia.

Assange writes op-ed defending Wikileaks

The release of a Tuesday op-ed piece by Assange, defending Wikileaks, coincided with his arrest.

Excerpts from the op-ed were released by The Australian.

Assange writes mostly about freedom of speech, and quotes Rupert Murdoch as saying: "In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.’’

Assange defends his methods and goals in the article, saying that American and Australian politicians are chanting a "probably false chorus [of] 'you'll risk lives! You'll endanger troops!'" staff contributed to this report.

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