WikiLeaks founder turns himself in to Scotland Yard, but vows to fight extradition to Sweden
Julian Assange was denied bail by a British judge Tuesday afternoon, after the WikiLeaks founder turned himself in to Scotland Yard earlier in the day to answer questions related to alleged sex crimes in Sweden.
Assange told the court that he plans to fight extradition to Sweden to face those charges. He will now remain in British police custody until at least December 14.
“Officers from the Metropolitan Police extradition unit have this morning arrested Julian Assange on behalf of the Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape,” the police said in a statement early Tuesday. "He is accused 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."
Asked by the judge if he understood he could be extradited to Sweden, Assange said: "I understand that and I do not consent."
Several people — journalist John Pilger, filmmaker Ken Loach and socialite Jemima Khan — offered to put up £20,000 each for Assange's release, but according to the Guardian, the judge refused "on the grounds that he had access to financial means, the case was a serious one, and was worried he would not return."
The WikiLeaks founder was arrested by authorities in central London, in a meeting that was arranged by British authorities and his lawyer. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian citizen, appeared in court this afternoon for a preliminary hearing in the extradition case related to his alleged sex crimes. (As Business Insider notes, there is some doubt about the severity of those crimes.)
“It’s about time we got to the end of the day and we got some truth, justice and rule of law,” Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyers, told reporters Tuesday. “Julian Assange has been the one in hot pursuit to vindicate himself [and] to clear his good name.”
The arrest is the latest twist in a made-for-movie saga. It comes a day after authorities in Switzerland froze Assange's bank accounts, and a "fresh European arrest warrant" for his arrest was issued in Sweden. (Visa and Mastercard said on Tuesday they would suspend payments to WikiLeaks pending an investigation.)
Assange — who had not been seen since Interpol issued a "red notice" for his arrest last week — had threatened to release a "poison pill" of new leaks if he was arrested or killed.
"Wikileaks is operational," a spokesperson for WikiLeaks told Reuters. "We are continuing on the same track as laid out before."
He added: "Any development with regards to Julian Assange will not change the plans we have with regards to the releases today and in the coming days."
Assange and WikiLeaks contend the U.S. was behind the international manhunt, and that the sex crime charges are part of a coordinated smear campaign — with the Interpol warrant coming just days after the group leaked over 250,000 secret American diplomatic cables and ahead of a planned WikiFlood of thousands of documents from a U.S. bank.
When asked to comment on the Assange arrest Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "sounds like good news to me."
The entire archive of cables was disseminated (in encrypted form) to more than 100,000 people, Assange said last week in an online chat. “If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically."
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Calif. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Assange "should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage."
In an op-ed of his own — published Tuesday by the Australian newspaper — Assange wrote: "The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth."