WikiLeaks founder denied bail ahead of hearing
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, December 7, 2010 11:55AM EST
The man at the centre of a political, legal and technical maelstrom sparked by the Internet release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables has been denied bail, just hours after surrendering himself to British police.
The 39-year-old WikiLeaks founder was arrested early Tuesday, after voluntarily turning himself in to police in London.
At an appearance before the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court just hours later, Assange said he would fight extradition to Sweden where he faces charges of sex crimes.
That hearing is scheduled for Dec. 14.
Judge Howard Riddle ruled Assange will be remanded in custody until then, as he had "substantial grounds" to believe the accused wouldn't turn up for subsequent court proceedings.
Talking to reporters outside the court, Assange's London-based lawyer Mark Stephens said he believes the magistrate has left the door open to Assange being granted bail before next week.
"We have heard the judge today say he wishes to see the evidence himself. I think he was impressed that a number of people were prepared to stand up on behalf of Mr. Assange and profer his innocence."
On that basis, Stephens said he expects to file another bail application sometime soon.
"This is going to go viral, many people will come forward to stand as sureties for Mr. Assange," Stephens added, explaining that he could either petition Judge Riddle again or send the appeal to a higher court.
According to CTV's London Bureau Chief Tom Kennedy, Assange's decision to fight extradition could set the stage for a lengthy legal battle.
"If he decides to dig in his heels and exercise his rights, there have been cases of attempted extraditions in this country that have been dragged out in the courts for years," Kennedy said in an interview from London Tuesday.
Assange is accused of sexually assaulting two women during a trip to Sweden last summer.
The allegations that Assange raped and sexual molested one woman and sexually molestated and unlawfully coerced another stem from a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex," Stephens said.
Suggesting that prosecutors are subject to some level of manipulation, Stephens said the case against his client is a "politically motivated" attempt to derail the whistleblowing website.
WikiLeaks itself has come under escalating pressure since it began to release the first of a promised 250,000 secret U.S. State Department cables last week.
The website has fended off hackers, been bounced from servers, lost its domain and had key fundraising tools -- PayPal, Visa and MasterCard -- blocked from service. Assange, who says he has faced death threats since WikiLeaks began releasing the diplomatic cables, saw his new Swiss bank account closed on Monday.
The Pentagon and the U.S. Justice Department have also launched a criminal investigation to determine whether Assange, an Australian citizen, can be charged under the Espionage Act.
Ahead of his arrest by British police, Assange said he has already released encrypted versions of the most sensitive documents that can be made public if anything happens to his staff.
Responding to reports of Assange's arrest, a spokesperson for the website said WikiLeaks will continue releasing more secret documents.
"This will not change our operation," Kristinn Hrafnsson told The Associated Press, adding that there are no plans to release the key to the heavily encrypted version of its most "explosive" documents yet.
That policy would change, Hrafnsson said, in the event of unspecified "grave matters" involving WikiLeaks staff.
Ahead of Assange's arrest, WikiLeaks did not publish any new cables in more than 24 hours, and its usually constant stream of Tweets fell silent for almost 20 hours Monday night.
The Twitter stream resumed Tuesday with a vow to "release more cables tonight as normal."