As the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks continues to publish secret U.S. diplomatic cables, its founder Julian Assange is facing international arrest over allegations in Sweden. In the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced WikiLeaks is the target of a criminal probe, and some politicians have accused him of violating the Espionage Act. We speak to Assange’s attorney in London, Jennifer Robinson. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: As the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks continues to publish secret U.S. diplomatic cables, its founder Julian Assange has gone into hiding in order to avoid arrest. Earlier today, Sweden’s highest court refused permission for Assange to appeal the arrest order issued over charges of alleged rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Assange has denied the allegations and said he is the target of a smear campaign. Earlier this week, Interpol, the international law enforcement organization, issued a red notice alert for Assange’s arrest. He could now be detained on the sex charges in any of the 188 countries that are part of Interpol. Meanwhile, here in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder has announced WikiLeaks is the target of a criminal probe, and some politicians have accused Assange of breaking the Espionage Act.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the legal problems facing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, we’re going to London. We’re joined by his lawyer Jennifer Robinson. She is one of the few people who have been in contact with Julian this week.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Jennifer Robinson, where is Julian Assange right now?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: He is here in the U.K. I can confirm that much. But as to his exact whereabouts, I cannot confirm.
AMY GOODMAN: Do the authorities know where he is?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: The authorities certainly know how to contact him via his lawyers. And I must, I’m sorry, correct you, that he is not in hiding, evading any Interpol arrest warrant. He has genuine concerns for his personal safety as a result of numerous very public calls for his assassination. And he’s obviously incredibly busy with the WikiLeaks current works and the attacks on their systems. So, any suggestion that he is evading Interpol arrest warrants is incorrect.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, in terms of this Interpol warrant, what does it mean in terms of what would be the procedure if, let’s say, British authorities decided to — if they could find where he is and decided they wanted to execute this warrant?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well, I think the first thing that we have to remember is that an Interpol red notice is not actually an arrest warrant. It is considered by states who are member states of Interpol as a valid provisional arrest notice, so the authorities can take action. Though what we do know, and has been reported today, is that if a European arrest warrant was issued, the authorities would be obliged to arrest my client. Reports today have suggested that a European arrest warrant was communicated to SOCA, the authorities here in the U.K., but that was returned on the grounds of an administrative error, and we’re seeking confirmation at the moment of what that problem was. In our view, the Interpol arrest warrant, there are serious issues with it, on the grounds of due process concerns arising in the Swedish proceedings, and also, indeed, for the need for it, given our client’s voluntary offers of cooperation that were rejected by the Swedish prosecuting authorities.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain, Jennifer Robinson, what that was? What were Julian Assange’s efforts to deal with the Swedish authorities?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well, first, it’s important to note that Mr. Assange remained in Sweden for almost a month in order to clear his name. While he was in Sweden after the allegations came out, he was in touch with the prosecuting authorities and offered on numerous occasions to provide interview in order to clear his name. Those offers were not taken up by the police. Now, he obviously has had to travel for work and had meetings to attend. And in order to leave Sweden, he sought the specific permission of the prosecutor to leave, on the grounds that there was an outstanding investigation, and she gave that permission. So he left Sweden lawfully and without objection by the prosecuting authorities. Since that time, we have communicated through his Swedish counsel on numerous occasions offers to provide the answers to the questions that she may have through other means, through teleconference, through video link, by attending an embassy here in the U.K. to provide that information. And all of those offers were rejected. It’s also important to remember that the prosecutor has not once issued a formal summons for his interrogation. So, all of these communications have been informally. And in our view, it’s disproportionate to seek an arrest warrant when voluntary cooperation has been offered.
JUAN GONZALEZ: How unusual is this for an Interpol red alert notice to go out over what is essentially a local — not, I wouldn’t say a minor allegation, but certainly not something that would warrant an international manhunt of this kind?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Absolutely, I agree with you entirely. My instructions from Swedish counsel is that it’s highly irregular for allegations of this kind to give rise to a red notice. On the basis of our appeal to one of the lower courts, the rape charge was in fact struck out. And as we have always maintained, the facts certainly do not meet that charge. So, there are real questions about the proportionality of seeking an arrest warrant on the basis of the allegations that are made. And of course we have to remember that no formal charges have been issued.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the growing number of threats against Julian Assange. The former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has said Assange should be, quote, "hunted down," and a former campaign aide of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper went a step further in a recent interview on the Canadian Broadcasting, CBC.
TIM FLANAGAN: Well, I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something. You know, there’s no good coming of this.
AMY GOODMAN: That was University of Calgary professor Tim Flanagan, who served as the Conservative Party’s campaign manager in Canada’s general election in 2004 and 2006. Jennifer Robinson, as Julian Assange’s attorney, your response?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: These calls for his assassination are absolutely outrageous and, indeed, illegal. I think that the prosecuting authorities ought to consider prosecuting these individuals for incitement to violence. Obviously assassination is illegal, and we take these concerns very seriously. Now, the press around the fact that my client is in hiding to evade arrest is absolutely incorrect. And one can imagine that when you have very public officials making these sorts of serious calls for assassination, that one would be concerned for their personal safety. I also think that it raises genuine concerns when you have Sarah Palin making such allegations for the prospect of my client receiving any sort of due process in the U.S.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you about the — potentially, obviously, a much more difficult situation is the criminal investigation that Attorney General Holder and U.S. officials say they are now looking into about the possibility of charging your client with violations of the U.S. Espionage Act. Your response to that?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Obviously, we will be taking advice from U.S. lawyers on the Espionage Act. I’m not a practicing U.S. lawyer. Though it is of grave concern and a matter that we are following closely. In our view, WikiLeaks ought to be entitled to the First Amendment protections for free speech. And any prosecution under the Espionage Act would call into question those protections.
AMY GOODMAN: Will Julian Assange be making any public statements anytime soon?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I’m not sure that he will be making any public statements anytime soon. At present, he is busy on other matters.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting. He put out the Iraq war logs, the Afghanistan war logs, as well, if you will. Then you have the cable — these diplomatic cables. All of that he was — continued — able to travel freely. Now, even after the cables, it’s when he said, you know, "I’ll be now releasing the documents of one of the largest banks in America" — many are suspecting it’s Bank of America — does the full arrest warrant go out for him, or as you said, the red flag. Jennifer Robinson?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well, I think that certainly it’s very interesting timing that the arrest warrant has come about. But there’s — in terms of the document release, I think it’s just very interesting timing that the arrest warrant has come at the time that it has, two days after the leak of the — the release of all these documents.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about he is now busily at work on other matters. Are you talking about the continued release of documents? And how exactly is he doing it? And, oh, how many people is he working with?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: As his lawyer, I’m not privy to the internal operations of WikiLeaks, and we only provide advice on his — the external legal matters. As I understand it, the documents will continue to be released. And as has been reported in the press in the past few days, WikiLeaks is dealing with a number of attacks on its systems from a technical point of view, which are of great concern and put at threat the operations of WikiLeaks.
JUAN GONZALEZ: One other question. You’ve confirmed that he is in the U.K. Have you been contacted at all by British authorities about having contact with your client?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: We have not been — we have not been contacted by the police, though we have made clear that we are acting for Mr. Assange and that he can be contacted via us. But no contact has been made with us thus far.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does Julian Assange say, Jennifer Robinson, about these charges of rape and sexual molestation?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Obviously, he vehemently denies the allegations and is incredibly keen to clear his name, hence the reason for our voluntary offers of cooperation to the prosecutor over the past several weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, on the issue of being called a terrorist, you have national politicians like New York’s Congress member Peter King saying that WikiLeaks should be declared a terrorist organization. At the same time, federally in this country, if a person is declared a terrorist, an executive order — or if that’s not exactly the technical name — can be issued, for example, for Awlaki, where he can be assassinated. Are you concerned about this?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Absolutely, and I think the suggestion that WikiLeaks is a terrorist organization is absolutely outrageous.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Jennifer Robinson. Can you say how Julian Assange is protecting himself right now?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: He is obviously concerned about personal safety and is maintaining a low profile in order to protect himself from those threats.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying he’s not in hiding from authorities but from possible personal harm?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: He is absolutely not evading arrest. He is in — he’s not in hiding. His location is not disclosed out of concern for general personal safety issues. And the prosecuting authorities are able to contact him via his lawyers. There is no suggestion that he is evading arrest.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the legality of the U.S. going after the WikiLeaks website, the pressure on Amazon to drop WikiLeaks?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: I think that’s more a matter of politics than the law.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Jennifer Robinson, for being with us, speaking to us from London. She is one of the attorneys for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.