Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Is Assange arrest "politically motivated"?

When Julian Assange's lawyer appeared on the steps of a London court yesterday he called the charges filed as being "politically motivated". But he is not alone to air such views.

Dozens of journalists, photographers and cameramen gathered as Assange was driven into the court on Tuesday. And shortly after the Wikileaks' founder was refused bail a number of supporters came out and spoke of their concerns. Among them were veteran journalist and writer John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan.

Pilger, speaking after the brief court appearance said, "Sweden should be ashamed. This is not justice – this is outrageous." Kahn, who said she did not know Assange personally, said she had offered her support because she believed in "the human right to freedom of information and our right to be told the truth". Loach also spoke in Assange's defence. "I think the work he has done has been a public service. I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those that govern us."

The charges

Assange had earlier been named on a Red Notice by Interpol. The issue of such a notice for 'sex crimes' on Interpol is highly unusual. The International Criminal Police Organization primarily focuses on public safety, terrorism, organized crime, crimes against humanity,environmental crime, genocide, war crimes, piracy, illicit drug production, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, child pornography, white-collar crime, computer crime,intellectual property crime and corruption.

In the notice, issued by the International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg, Sweden, Julian Paul Assange was named as being wanted for unspecified 'sex crimes'. A Red Notice is defined as a notice "To seek the provisional arrest of a wanted person with a view to extradition based on an arrest warrant or court decision."

Unlike the UK, Swedish rape law is not based on consent but on the concept of sexual integrity. There are a number of possible offences against this integrity. Those that involve both penetration and either physical force or a threat of some illegal act, such as violence, are classified as rape. So are assaults on people who are helpless at the time, either as a result of intoxication or severe mental disturbance. The degree of physical force involved need only be very small. It can be enough merely to move the victim's legs apart, according to Gunilla Berglund, at the Swedish ministry of justice. Rape carries a sentence of between two and six years; aggravated rape a sentence of four to 10 years.


James Denselow , a security analyst from Kings College speaking to Russia Today, said the charges and the timing of the arrest, "seems to be an incredible coincidence." But ex-CIA officer Ray McGovern said the actions taken against the Wikileaks' founder was meant to intimidate. "This is clearly a set up to make sure every time a newspaper mentions Julian Assange it will also mention rape," McGovern said. He also spoke of his fears for the safety of the Australian. "Julian Assange is in danger, in personal danger," and intimated that he could be assassinated. "It wouldn't have to be the CIA, ... it could be Mosad"

Speaking on France 24 Pierre Conesa, a former French defence ministry official, and currently the Managing Director of the European Company of Strategic Intelligence criticised the arrest of Assange and the widespread attacks of Wikileaks. "I think its a persecution," Conesa insisted. He likened the attacks on Wikileaks as being like the French government trying to ban Le Canard enchaîné, a French satirical magazine which features investigative journalism and leaks from sources inside the French government [website].

In another development, Australian Rudd blamed the US for not keeping their secrets safe. Speaking to Reuters he said, "Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network. The Americans are responsible for that." [BBC / ABC]. But while he also condemned the leaking of the information by Wikileaks, Rudd said he was unconcerned about what the cables said about him. "I'm sure much worse has been written about me in the past and probably much worse will be written about me in the future but frankly, mate, I don't care," Rudd said. "My job's just to act in Australia's national interest as Australia's foreign minister. I don't, frankly, give a damn about this sort of thing."

As 39-year-old Assange sits inside Wandsworth Prison, Australia has offered consular assistance and are expected to issue papers later today [Australian]. "I'm the Foreign Minister of Australia and I'm responsible for the consular wellbeing of all Australians and, therefore, I just want to make it absolutely clear that, first of all, Mr Assange has contacted the Australian Consul-General in London and asked for consular support," Rudd said, "We have confirmed that we'll provide that, as we'd do for all Australian citizens."

"We'll be providing him with a letter soon which indicates we'll be prepared to provide consular visits and any other level of consular support concerning his well being and his legal rights. That is the proper thing to do for any Australian citizen. What we do with Australians in strife anywhere in the world is that we take the view that our responsibility is to ensure the consular rights and legal rights of all Australians abroad are protected. And that includes Mr Assange." Meanwhile top human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson is to represent Assange [SMH]. He is expected to question why the Assange has been refused access by his lawyers under the apparent pretext of staff shortages.

Last night Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, confirmed it would continue publishing US diplomatic cables. In a statement he said: "This will not stifle WikiLeaks. The release of the US embassy cables – the biggest leak in history – will still continue. We will not be gagged, either by judicial action or corporate censorship."

Cyberattacks and boycotts

However, Wikileaks is under an increased number of attacks. The site has been virtually inaccessible due to continuing DDoS attacks. Last week Amazon stopped hosting of the website and PayPal cut its ties, refusing to allow funds being transferred through its online payment service. And this week both MasterCard and Visa pulled the plug while Swiss bank Postfinance [the financial arm of Swiss Post] closed Wikileaks account.

In what has now become a digital war, some supporters of Wikileaks have begun their own cyberattacks against those they see as the enemy. On Tuesday Paypal, Mastercard and several other websites were coming under DDoS attacks making them virtually inaccessible. The attack is being orchestrated by Operation Payback and forms part of an ongoing campaign by Anonymous. It was posting updates via its Twitter feed and website. At the time of going to press the Mastercard website was inaccessible, though PayPal, Visa, Switzerland Post Finance and Amazon were still operating.

Media coverage

The story has been widely covered on most news channels, though each has a slightly different agenda. Sky News, the BBC and CNN have provided what could be considered balanced coverage and given a great amount of detail concerning the content of the leaked cables themselves. Other broadcasters have been selective on what the have reported. France 24 today discussed issues of censorship, though French President Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the leaks. Russia Today has focused on the threat to Julian Assange himself pulling in experts from organisations willing to point the finger at western and allied security services. Press TV which broadcasts out of Iran often airs programming which discusses the free flow of information and the censorship of western media, ironic given the strictly controlled nature of media in Iran. Today on Rattansi and Ridley, Gavin McFadyean, Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, was invited to discuss the Wikileaks story to give his insight on the attacks on the whistle-blowing site. Japanese news station NHK today covered the story dropping in at third on its headlines after a report about Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and the tensions in the Korean peninsula. One media organisation that has stayed studiously quiet is CCTV, China's state news broadcaster.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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