LONDON, United Kingdom — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London this morning. Assange was detained after a European Arrest Warrant was issued by a Swedish prosecutor who wants to question Assange regarding allegations of “rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion."
During an almost an hour-long appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court, Assange said he would fight the extradition request. He was denied bail and will remain in police custody pending his return to court Dec. 14 for a further hearing. This was despite radical journalist John Pilger, filmmaker Ken Loach and socialite human rights campaigner Jemima Khan appearing with him to stand "surety," in other words, pay the fine if Assange skipped bail.
Today's court appearance marks the first time Assange has been seen in public since the furor over the publication of 250,000 classified State Department cables began last week. It is thought he has been hiding somewhere in the London exurbs over the last few weeks, although for the last two nights he has reportedly been staying at London's Frontline Club, a private club for journalists.
The charges against Assange stem from incidents alleged to have taken place last summer. Details are sparse because of Swedish laws that protect women's anonymity in cases of rape and other sexual offenses. The laws governing the European Arrest Warrant system were created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They create a fast-track for extradition between European Union member states provided the country issuing the warrant provides basic evidence that demonstrates the person being arrested will be put on trial, not merely questioned.
Following today's proceedings, Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, assured the hundred plus journalists waiting outside the court in freezing temperatures that the State Department cables would continue to be published.
"Wikileaks will continue," he said. "Wikileaks is many thousands of journalists around the world."
Referring to what happened in the court, Stephens said, "We are in the rather exotic position of not having seen any of the evidence." He added that he understood the problems Judge Howard Riddle had in evaluating the bail request. "The judge wishes to see the evidence himself," Stephens told reporters, and suggested Ribble would hold another bail hearing after he has seen that evidence.
Stephens said Assange was in good spirits.
The day's drama began when the 39-year old Assange presented himself voluntarily to the police at a central London police station at 9:30 a.m. As expected he was arrested under terms of the warrant. Official Washington was asleep when Assange was arrested. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, is in Afghanistan and had the first administration response to Assange's arrest. Gates said, "Sounds like good news to me."
In related news, credit card companies Visa and Mastercard and online payment service PayPal have stopped accepting donations to WikiLeaks.
In an article just published online by The Australian newspaper, Assange publishes a defense of his organization's motivation in making public the cables. He begins by invoking the name of The Australian's owner, Australia and America's best known press baron, Rupert Murdoch.
Assange writes, "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.'
He also mentions Murdoch's father, Sir Keith Murdoch, whose reporting on the mindless slaughter of Australian troops at Gallipoli during World War I set the Antipodean standard for fearless journalism. It will be interesting to see whether similar reverence earns Assange softer treatment from Fox News, also owned by Murdoch.