8th December, 2010
WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has angered U.S. authorities by publishingÂ secret diplomatic cables, was remanded in custody by a British court on Tuesday overÂ allegations of sex crimes in Sweden.
He has spent some time in Sweden and was accused this year of sexual misconduct byÂ two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers. A Swedish prosecutor wants to question himÂ about the accusation.
WikiLeaks, which has provoked fury in Washington with its publications, vowed itÂ would continue making public details of the 250,000 secret U.S. documents it hadÂ obtained.
U.S. Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, welcomed news of the arrest. â€œI hadnâ€™t heardÂ that but it sounds like good news to me,â€ Gates told reporters during a trip toÂ Afghanistan.
At a court hearing in London, Senior District Judge Howard Riddle said: â€œThere areÂ substantial grounds to believe he could abscond if granted bail.â€
He said the allegations were serious, and that Assange had comparatively weakÂ community ties in Britain.
His British lawyer, Mark Stephens, told reporters a renewed bail application wouldÂ be made, and that his client was â€œfine.â€
â€œWe are entitled to appeal to a higher court, to the High Court, and we are alsoÂ entitled to go again in the magistrates court at another date,â€ he told reporters.Â He said many people believed the prosecution was politically motivated, and that heÂ would be â€œreleased and vindicated.â€
But a Swedish prosecutor was cited in newspaper Aftonbladet as saying the case wasÂ not a personal matter and was not connected with his WikiLeaks work.
Assange, dressed in a navy suit and wearing an open-neck white shirt, initially gaveÂ his address in court as a PO Box in Australia. Pressed for a more precise address,Â he gave a street in Victoria, Australia.
Australian journalist, John Pilger, British film director, Ken Loach and JemimaÂ Khan, former wife of Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan, all offered toÂ put up sureties to persuade the court Assange would not abscond.
Pilger, who offered 20,000 pounds, told the court: â€œThese charges against him inÂ Sweden are absurd and were judged absurd by a senior Swedish prosecutor.
â€œIt would be a travesty for Mr. Assange to go within that kind of Swedish system.â€
The U.S. government and others across the world have argued the publication ofÂ cables is irresponsible and could put their national security at risk.
The WikiLeaks website was shut down after apparent political pressure on serviceÂ providers, but WikiLeaks said there were now 750 global mirror sites meaning theÂ data so far released remained publicly available. More cables would be releasedÂ later on Tuesday, it said.
Lawyer Gemma Lindfield, representing the Swedish judicial authorities, said theÂ extradition case contained allegations of four sexual assaults by Assange againstÂ two women in Stockholm in August 2010. One charge over Miss A is that AssangeÂ â€œsexually molested herâ€ by ignoring her request for him to use a condom when havingÂ sex with her.
Another charge relates to â€œMiss W,â€ who alleged Assange had sex with her without aÂ condom while she was sleeping on August 7.
Swedish prosecutors opened, then dropped, then re-opened an investigation into theÂ allegations. The crime he is suspected of is the least severe of three categories ofÂ rape, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.
Assangeâ€™s Swedish lawyer has said his client would fight any extradition andÂ believed foreign powers were influencing Sweden.
Swiss PostFinance, the banking arm of state-owned Swiss Post, has closed an accountÂ used for WikiLeaks donations and online payment service PayPal has also suspendedÂ WikiLeaksâ€™ account. Visa Europe said on Tuesday it had suspended payments to theÂ WikiLeaks website.