WikiLeaks editor-in-cheif Julian Assange handed himself in to British police yesterday after Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest over allegations of sex crimes, London’s Metropolitan Police said.
Assange, whose WikiLeaks Web site is at the center of a row over the release of secret US diplomatic cables, was arrested under a European Arrest Warrant.
Swedish prosecutors want to question the 39-year-old Australian about allegations including rape. He denies the allegations.
WikiLeaks, which has provoked fury in Washington with its publications, vowed it would continue making public details of the 250,000 secret US documents it had obtained.
“Today’s actions against our editor-in-chief Julian Assange won’t affect our operations: We will release more cables tonight as normal,” WikiLeaks said, according to its Twitter page.
Assange was due to appear before City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London later yesterday where a date for an extradition hearing was likely to be set. This must take place within 21 days of his arrest.
“He is accused by the Swedish authorities 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,” a London police spokeswoman said.
Assange has spent much of his time in Sweden and earlier this year was accused of sexual misconduct by two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers.
This led Swedish prosecutors to open, then drop, then reopen an investigation into the allegations. The crime he is suspected of is the least severe of three categories of rape, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.
London police said Assange was arrested by officers from its extradition unit at about 9:30am after he appeared by appointment at a police station. His whereabouts had been previously undisclosed.
If a judge is satisfied his extradition is warranted and would not breach his human rights, the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition will be ordered, although Assange can appeal against that decision to higher courts.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer has said his client would fight any extradition and believed foreign powers were influencing Sweden.
The US government and others across the world have said the publication of cables is irresponsible and could put their national security at risk.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday US President Barack Obama’s administration was considering ways to seek prosecutions over their release.
The WikiLeaks Web site was also shut down after apparent political pressure on service providers, but WikiLeaks said there were now 750 global mirror sites meaning the data so far released remained readily available.
The group said it would be operating as normal using people in London and other locations, and said the pressure it faced was becoming a fundamental question of civil liberties.
“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,” WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said. “The attacks that we are under from companies who are bowing to pressure from the US government are outrageous and I see it a clear confrontation against the freedom of speech and press freedom.”