Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Interpol, the world’s biggest international police organization, added WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to its wanted list after Sweden issued an arrest warrant for him on rape charges.
Assange, 39, originally from Townsville, Australia, is being sought under the Lyon-based organization’s Red Notice, authorizing local police forces in member states to arrest him and hold him for extradition, according to Interpol’s website.
The request for his arrest comes as WikiLeaks continues to release diplomatic cables, including some secret correspondence, on its website. The planned release of 251,287 documents, of which 291 are currently available, has been condemned by several world leaders, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it “an attack on the international community.”
Assange is accused of rape and sexual molestation after two women complained in August when he was in Sweden giving lectures on WikiLeaks’ publishing of classified U.S. military documents related to the war in Afghanistan. He has denied the charges and his lawyer in the U.K., Mark Stephens, has said that Assange had consensual sex with the women.
Assange is only wanted as a witness in Sweden, Stephens, said in an e-mail today. “The U.K. police know how to contact him,” he said. “He is not and has never been on the run.”
”This appears to be a persecution and a prosecution,” Stephens said in a separate e-mail. He said Assange has repeatedly sought meetings with the Swedish prosecutor. “But his requests have either been ignored or met with a refusal,” Stephens said.
Stephens regularly represents several media organizations, including Bloomberg News.
Assange has appealed the Nov. 24 decision of a Swedish court that upheld an arrest warrant on rape charges, Expressen newspaper reported yesterday, citing court officials.
“The Australian government is aware Mr. Assange is the subject of an Interpol Red Notice,” the attorney general’s office said today in an e-mailed statement.
Australian Federal Police follows agreed protocols to Interpol notices which may “include arrest” and notification through Interpol to the agency seeking arrest or extradition if the subject is in Australia, according to the statement.
The government won’t disclose if it has received an extradition request until an arrest is made, the attorney general’s office said.
Robert McClelland, the attorney general, said on Nov. 29 that he had asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate the leaks and whether any Australian laws were broken.
“Australia will support any law enforcement action that may be taken,” he told reporters. “We have formed a whole-of-government task force to look at the issues.”
WikiLeaks.org receives confidential material that governments and businesses want to keep secret and posts the information on the Internet “so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth,” the organization says on its website.
Assange’s application for a Swedish residence and work permit, which would have allowed him to establish WikiLeaks as a Swedish publication protected by the constitution, was turned down by the Migration Board.
WikiLeaks, which Assange calls “a library of suppressed history,” was started in 2006. It has collected and publicized more than 91,000 secret U.S. military reports from Afghanistan and a military video of a July 2007 helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters television cameraman and his driver.
Assange began as a computer hacker in Australia. His activities prompted the federal government to change the country’s Crimes Act to deal with computer-related offenses, according to court documents.
Assange pleaded guilty in 1996 to 24 counts of violating the Crimes Act by accessing information and inserting information into computers, commonly known as hacking. They included accessing computers of Nortel Networks Corp., then Canada’s biggest maker of telecommunications equipment. He faced a penalty of as much as 10 years in jail.
In fining him A$2,100 ($2,023) and putting him on probation for three years, the judge in Melbourne said at the time Assange didn’t access the computers for any personal gain.
Christine Assange, his mother, today told Australia’s ABC radio she was distressed by the news her son is on an Interpol wanted list.
“I don’t want him hunted down and jailed,” she said.
-- Editors: Suresh Seshadri, Douglas Wong.
To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Schneider in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org
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