x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

WikiLeaks' Julian Assange denied bail by UK court

Founder of controversial secrets-spilling website in custody as he faces extradition to Sweden over sex allegations.

LONDON // A British judge today denied bail for the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, after he told a court in London that he intends to fight his extradition to Sweden on sex crime allegations.

District judge Howard Riddle told Mr Assange, 39 that there were "substantial grounds" for believing he would not turn up for subsequent proceedings. The judge refused bail despite an offer by personalities including the film director Ken Loach and the socialite Jemima Khan to put up bail for Mr Assange. The judge then put Mr Assange, an Australian, into custody before an extradition hearing.

Mr Assange appeared before City of Westminster Magistrates' Court after turning himself in to Scotland Yard earlier today to face a Swedish arrest warrant over allegations of sexual offences against two women in Sweden.

Mr Assange was asked whether he understood that he could consent to be extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion.

Clearing his throat, he said: "I understand that and I do not consent."

Mr Assange denies the allegations, which stem from a visit to Sweden in August. He and his lawyers claim the accusations stem from a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex", and have said the case has taken on political overtones.

The Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, has rejected those claims.

WikiLeaks said that the detention of its founder would not stop it releasing more of the confidential US cables.

In a statement on Twitter it said: "Today's actions against our editor-in-chief Julian Assange won't affect our operations: we will release more cables tonight as normal." it said in a statement on Twitter.

James Ball, a WikiLeaks journalist in London, told AFP that staff were working "on schedule, all that stuff will keep rolling out as ever".

In a sign of Washington's satisfaction at the arrest, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, who was visiting Afghanistan today, said it "sounds like good news."

>The Metropolitan Police in London said earlier in a statement that officers from its extradition unit had arrested Assange on a European arrest warrant "by appointment at a London police station.

"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," the police statement said.

The arrest of Mr Assange comes as a fresh blow to WikiLeaks, which has been chased around the globe since it started to release a cache of 250,000 US diplomatic memos on November 28.

The website has hopped from server to server as different countries tried to close it down, even as its supporters have responded by setting up hundreds of "mirror" sites to keep it online.

WikiLeaks is also coming under increased financial pressure, with Visa following in the footsteps of MasterCard and PayPal today by announcing that it was suspending all payments to WikiLeaks.

Swiss authorities shut down one of Mr Assange's bank accounts on Monday, while a big WikiLeaks donor is in trouble in Germany for not filing its accounts on time.

WikiLeaks has already been expelled from the United States, where the US attorney general, Eric Holder, has said authorities were pursuing an "active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature" into the leaks.

US politicians have called for Mr Assange to be treated as a terrorist.

In one of the latest leaks, US cables released today showed that Nato had extended an existing defence plan covering Poland to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after they lobbied for extra protection.