Assange fears US indictment

WikiLeaks founder says he believes a secret grand jury is investigating him a day after he is released on bail.

Julian Assange is under ‘manor arrest’ in southeast England as part of his bail conditions set by the High Court [AFP]

Julian Assange, founder of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has said he fears the United States is preparing to indict him on espionage charges.

Speaking outside a mansion in southeastern England where he staying as part of his bail conditions, the 39-year-old Australian said he was being subjected to “what appears to be a secret grand jury against me or our organisation”.

“Something is very wrong in the US for there to be an investigation against me and my organisation,” he told reporters on Friday, without elaborating.

His comments come a day after he was freed on bail by the High Court in London, following nine days spent in solitary confinement in a British jail.

‘Successful smear campaign’

Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning over allegations of sex crimes, accusations he has described as a very successful “smear campaign”.

“It’s an incredible allegation,” he said.

“If you Google ‘rape’, one-tenth of the entries come up with my name. So it’s a very successful smear campaign, but its days are numbered.

“People are starting to wonder, ‘are these allegations true? Where is the evidence?'”

He said that Swedish authorities had yet to provide “a single piece of evidence to back up its allegations”.

Talking to Al Jazeera, the website founder said he fears he could be extradited to the US.

“I, or other members of my staff, could be extradited from here, or from Sweden, kidnapped according to what some people in the United States are saying, taken to the United States and put [in jail] for our lifetimes.”

He also denied on Friday that he or WikiLeaks had encouraged a US soldier to pass on secret documents about the Iraq war.

He said he had never heard of Bradley Manning, who is being held in the US on suspicion of handing over video footage US forces killing 12 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, until his name was published in the press.

“WikiLeaks technology [was] designed from the very beginning to make sure that we never know the identities or names of people submitting us material,” Assange told ABC’s Good Morning America programme.

The organisation’s latest release – thousands of US diplomatic cables – has angered the US government and sparked calls from some politicians and commentators for his arrest and even execution.

Assange has vowed to keep on going with WikiLeaks despite the claims against him.

“The priority for me is to keep on going with our work, to steer this big ship in the right direction,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We have over 2,000 sites now. They’re going to have to take down all 2,000 if they want to stop the release of this information,” he said.

‘Threat to freedom’

Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera’s correspondent outside Ellingham Hall where Assange is staying, said the website founder was keen to make his point to US media.

“There is no doubt in Mr Assange’s mind that [the US] is where the real threat to his freeedom and to WikiLeaks lies.

“He nows sees those sexual assault allegations as a pretext – in the long run he is concerned about extradition to the US and possible charges of espionage there.”

For the meantime, however, Assange is expected to turn his attentions to battling his impending extradition to Sweden, with a hearing due in England on January 11.

The Australian is staying at the country estate of Vaughan Smith, founder of the Frontline club for journalists, in Suffolk, southeast England.

He was freed after his supporters posted £316,000 bail and agreed to strict bail conditions including an electronic tag, a curfew and daily reporting to a local police station.

‘No crime’ in Australia

Meanwhile, Australian police have said that Assange did not commit any criminal offence in the country by releasing the diplomatic cables.

“The AFP [Australian Federal Police] has completed its evaluation of the material available and has not established  the existence of any criminal offences where Australia would have jurisdiction,” the AFP said in a statement.

“Where additional cables are published and criminal offences are suspected, these matters should be referred to the AFP for evaluation.”

Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, confirmed the finding, but reiterated her view that WikiLeaks’ release of the secret cables was “grossly irresponsible”.

“I know there are a number of people who are fans of WikiLeaks. Let me make it very very clear – I am not,” she said.

“The release of all of this documentation has been grossly irresponsible and I stand by the remarks that I have made about this previously.”

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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