News / Europe

WikiLeaks Founder Remains Cause Celebre

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, February 7, 2011
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, February 7, 2011

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Jennifer Glasse

The internet site WikiLeaks  is credited with helping topple the regime in Tunisia, and exposing a variety of U.S. government secrets. Its founder, Julian Assange is in London fighting extradition to Sweden in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct.  Assange’s troubles have complicated his quest for making classified information public.

He has become the story. His lawyer calls it "The Julian Assange factor." The Wikileaks founder is embroiled in a court case with Sweden, which wants him extradited for questioning about sex crimes.

The media seems to follow his every move, hang on his every word. His high profile supporters believe the trial is a meant to silence him.

"I suspect that what  is on trial here, is not his alleged sexual misconduct, but freedom of information itself. This is about censorship and intimidation," said Jemima Khan, a supporter of Assange.

They say because WikiLeaks  exposed corruption, war crimes and torture, WikiLeaks  is a threat, and not only to governments.

"It Is doing the job which mainstream journalists refuse to do," said Tariq Ali, a writer and Assange supporter.   

They hold him up as a hero, for exposing the truth. "And for that alone we should be grateful to WikiLeaksand Julian Assange," said Ali.

Journalist David Leigh is with the British newspaper The Guardian, and has worked alongside Assange.  He says Assange came to them."WikiLeaks  had to partner with the mainstream media with The Guardian, with The New York Times, with [Der] Spiegel in Germany because we are the only ones who could make sense of the material and handle it in a responsible fashion," he said.

Assange is no longer working with those papers.  He has accused journalists of manipulating or distorting his story and what WikiLeaksis about.  So he is going directly to the people himself, online.

"Throughout these series of roundtables, we will be responding to your questions from around the world, this is not just a press conference, this is a people’s conference," he said.

Leigh says Assange has never really been good with people, and that his troubles are of his own making. "I think he does bring it all upon himself, he picks fights with people, and he is difficult to deal with, and in a way he has got the personality like the classic computer hacker, they are not very good with people," he said.

Assange has been controversial since he appeared as the face of WikiLeaks   He claims the site has thousands of supporters, but many say he is the linchpin of the organization.  In court, his lawyers have argued he would not get a fair trial in Sweden, and that the investigation was flawed.  

Assange was frustrated by the proceedings, saying, "We have not been able to present my side of the story. I have never been able to present my side of the story."

Extradition hearings in Britain do not traditionally address the merits of the case against the accused.  Extradition lawyer Julian Knowles says Assange’s lawyers always faced an uphill battle. "The defense has limited room for maneuver, the trial judge is not concerned about the truth of the allegation, that is for trial, so for those reasons I think it is likely Assange will be extradited," he said.

No matter how the judge rules, an appeal is expected and the extradition process could take up to a year. The Julian Assange factor will likely ensure he remains in the public eye.

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