While Assange has been in the news for his connection to “Cablegate,” WikiLeaks’ controversial data dump of close to a thousand leaked U.S. diplomatic cables (WikiLeaks says it has a total of more than 250,000 in its possession), he was arrested in connection with rape charges filed against him in Sweden, which led to an Interpol Red Notice for Assange’s arrest. (The details of these charges are themselves a subject of controversy.)
Assange, who has been in hiding since his controversial website released secret U.S. diplomatic cables, was due at Westminster Magistrate’s Court later Tuesday. He is expected to fight attempts to extradite him to Sweden, where prosecutors are seeking to question him about allegations of sexual assault.
If Assange challenges extradition, he likely will be remanded into custody or released on bail until another judge rules on whether to extradite him, a spokeswoman for the extradition department said on customary condition of anonymity.
One open question is whether this will trigger WikiLeaks’ release of a so-called “poison pill” file of damaging secrets; Assange said that these were prepared in case he was captured or killed, but in this case, he agreed to his arrest. A potentially more interesting question is what will happen to WikiLeaks: Assange is by his own admission a figurehead, a lightning rod who attracts media attention while the people behind the scenes continue to do the real work of the organization. If he is detained for a long time, will WikiLeaks’ work be materially impacted in any way? If not, will the media and the authorities care anymore, or will they continue to come under the fierce, legality-blurring assault that they have over this past week-and-a-half?
Assange wrote an op-ed for The Australian today defending WikiLeaks’ mission:
WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?
Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.
WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain’s The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.
Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes.
Full op-ed here.
Update: Assange was apparently refused bail; WikiLeaks says that they will continue to release Cablegate files, but do not yet plan on a ‘poison pill’ release.