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WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Arrested, Denied Bail in U.K.

4 years ago
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LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrested Tuesday morning in London on sex charges, was denied bail and said he will fight extradition to Sweden during a court proceeding this afternoon. The 39-year-old Australian was taken into custody when he arrived at a central London police station by appointment.

Judge Howard Riddle said he had "substantial grounds" to believe Assange wouldn't turn up for subsequent proceedings, and ordered him into custody ahead of another court session on Dec. 14.

The judge asked Assange if he understood that he could consent to be extradited to Sweden. Assange replied that he did not consent. If Assange loses his fight against extradition at the Dec. 14 hearing, he could be returned to Sweden within 10 days. However, he has right to appeal, a process that could take up to a year, a legal expert told the Washington Post.

The arrest was widely expected after it emerged on Friday that Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) had received a fresh extradition request for Assange concerning allegations of rape in Sweden. Assange entered the police station via a rear entrance to avoid a mass of reporters and television cameras from throughout Europe as well as the United States, China, Russia, and Japan, the New York Times reported.

For the past several months Assange apparently has been in hiding somewhere in the United Kingdom. The public perception has been one of a man hunt.

The Metropolitan Police released the following statement:

Officers from the Metropolitan Police Extradition Unit have this morning arrested Julian Assange on behalf of the Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape.

Julian Assange, 39, was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant by appointment at a London police station at 9.30 a.m.

He is 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.

Assange is due to appear at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court today.

Julian AssangeAssange denies the charges. According to his attorney, Mark Stephens, Assange was keen to learn more about the allegations and anxious to clear his name. He said: "It's about time we got to the end of the day and we got some truth, justice and rule of law."

According to the Guardian, a key issue will be whether Assange is released on bail. His lawyers are reported to be putting together a generous package, including a security of at least £100,000 ($157,000) and a surety -- where third parties guarantee to pay the court if he absconds. However, the allegations facing Assange are serious in Swedish law and it is often more difficult to secure bail for these.

Assange's first appearance at Westminster magistrates court today will be primarily concerned with formalities, including establishing his identity and determining whether he consents to the extradition. The court will then adjourn for a full extradition hearing, which has to be within 21 days.

Assange's lawyers have vowed to fight extradition, maintaining that the entire case has been a "political stunt." They are likely to argue that the extradition hearing in the UK can't be fair, because of the unprecedented media attention.

Meanwhile, United States Attorney General Eric Holder has apparently authorized "significant" procedures aimed at prosecuting Assange in the U.S. for his role in the release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables and other government documents.

Assange will reportedly release a video statement later today. He has also penned an op-ed that will appear in an Australian newspaper later today. (See bottom for link)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in Afghanistan as part of an Obama administration assessment of the war, told reporters that Assange's arrest "sounds like good news to me."

On Friday, Assange took to the pages of the British daily, The Guardian, to defend the actions of his organization in a Q and A with the newspapers' readers. On Saturday, he lashed out at the Australian government for not defending him against attacks by the United States, saying he felt personally "betrayed" by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Update -- 1 p.m. GMT (8 a.m. Eastern): The Guardian reports that WikiLeaks will continue releasing leaked U.S. embassy cables in spite of its founder's arrest. So far, at least, there are no plans to release the so-called "insurance file" of the remaining cables, which number more than 200,000. WikiLeaks has sent copies of the encrypted file to supporters around the world. These can be accessed only by using a 256-digit code.

Update -- 1:10 p.m. GMT (8:10 a.m. Eastern): Julian Assange's op-ed in The Australian is now live. It was penned before his arrest and represents a continued, emphatic attempt on his part to defend the WikiLeaks dump. A group calling itself Justice for Assange is planning a protest outside City of Westminster magistrates court at 1.30 p. m.

Update -- 2:10 p.m. (9:10 a.m. Eastern): Visa says it has suspended all payments to WikiLeaks "pending further investigation." Earlier, MasterCard said: "MasterCard is taking action to ensure that WikiLeaks can no longer accept MasterCard-branded products." WikiLeaks operates on donations, many of which are made online via the credit card companies.

Update -- 2:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m. Eastern): Channel Four news reports that Assange sought Australian consular assistance as early as yesterday morning. The Australian High Commission in London confirmed that it was helping Assange and his lawyers and would be present at court, along with Assange's lawyers, Stephens and Jennifer Robinson.

Update --3:10 p.m. (10:10 a.m. Eastern): Julian Assange has been denied bail. AP reports that Assange told a London court that he intends to fight his extradition to Sweden on sex crime allegations, setting up what could be a drawn-out legal battle.

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