WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will remain in custody until at least December 14th, when a British court will take up a Swedish request for extradition. Assange hasn’t been charged with a crime but is wanted for questioning in Sweden on allegations of unlawful sexual contact with two women. Assange has maintained his innocence and called the case a political witch-hunt that has intensified with WikiLeaks’ release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. We speak with his attorney, Jennifer Robinson. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been denied bail in Britain. He was arrested in London Tuesday on an international warrant to face sexual crime allegations in Sweden. Assange denies the allegations. At his extradition hearing, Judge Howard Riddle ruled there was a risk he would fail to surrender if granted bail. Assange will remain in custody until December 14th, when the case can be reviewed at the same British court.
His supporters gathered outside the courtroom yesterday to denounce the case and offered to pay any bail for Assange. They included the film director Ken Loach; Jemima Khan, the wife of the former Pakistani cricket captain and presidential candidate Imran Khan; and the award-winning journalist John Pilger.
JOHN PILGER: The charges against him are outrageous.
JOHN PILGER: Because if you look at the case in Sweden, you know, as I’ve said, the chief prosecutor in Sweden threw out this case, in effect, declared it ridiculous.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Washington, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said Assange’s arrest was a European matter but denounced him for publishing classified government material.
P.J. CROWLEY: Obviously, the fact that Julian Assange has been arrested in Britain is a matter between Britain and Sweden. The United States does not take a position on the merits of that particular warrant from Interpol for his arrest. We have and continue to condemn what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has done. In our view, he has done substantial damage to the interests of the United States and the interests of other countries.
AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times is reporting the Justice Department is considering ways to indict Julian Assange beyond the Espionage Act. Other possible offenses it’s considering include conspiracy or trafficking in stolen property.
Julian Assange has dismissed the case against him as a political witch-hunt that’s intensified with the group’s release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. The refusal to grant him bail on Tuesday came as more pressure was brought on companies to sever their ties with WikiLeaks. MasterCard and Visa have now suspended the payment of donations to the website. On Monday, a Swiss bank said it had closed Assange’s account after he allegedly supplied false information. WikiLeaks’ PayPal account was also shut down this week, and its website has been thrown offline by cyber-attacks and U.S. government pressure.
For more, we’re going to London, where we’re joined on the phone by Julian Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson.
Jennifer Robinson, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you tell us exactly what happened in court yesterday? And again, what has Julian Assange been charged with?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well, the first thing to note is that no formal charges have yet been brought. Of course, on Monday night we received news after close of business that a valid European arrest warrant had been communicated by the Swedish authorities, which was an arrest warrant that is yet unclear, but is in relation to the allegations, not formal charges, and is for the purposes of having him give his interview and answers to the questions of the prosecutor. That was communicated on Monday night. We negotiated with the police to voluntarily attend a police station, so Mr. Assange could meet with the police and deal with the arrest warrant, and the hearing was heard yesterday.
In the court’s decision yesterday, Judge Riddle found that he was a flight risk, if he was granted bail. We obviously disagree with that. Mr. Assange has cooperated with both the Swedish authorities to the best of his ability and also with the British authorities. You have to remember, of course, that when the allegations came up, he remained in Sweden for more than a month and a half to answer the allegations and to provide answers to the questions of the police. He left the country with the prosecutor’s permission. Since leaving the country, he has been in touch with her. And indeed, the judge noted yesterday that I had written to the police to notify them here in Britain that we were aware that an arrest warrant may be communicated and that we were willing to cooperate. The judge noted that this was a very positive sign. Julian has, at all stages, cooperated. We have volunteered cooperation to the prosecutor. There is absolutely no need for this arrest warrant to obtain his testimony, and this is the point that we will maintain.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Robinson, some of the reports that I saw out of London said that the judge, Judge Riddle, denied bail for Julian Assange’s own protection, to keep him safe from those who might want to do him physical harm. Is that true?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: That’s actually incorrect. There were two grounds that were put forward by the prosecutors for remanding him in custody. The first was his flight risk. The second was threats to his own safety, that it would be in his interest to remain in prison. The judge threw that second submission out, which is actually what happened. He said that it was for the defendant to determine — that is, Mr. Assange to determine. He’s the best person to determine risk to his safety. And indeed, as we submitted on his behalf, he may suffer even greater risk in prison. So, that wasn’t a ground that was found to be persuasive in the end, and there are ways and means that he could be protected outside. And indeed, I think it’s quite patronizing for the authorities to suggest that he needs to be kept in prison for his own safety.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hosenball of Reuters is reporting that the two Swedish women who accused Julian Assange of sexual misconduct were at first not seeking to bring charges against him. They just wanted to track him down and persuade him to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Is that your understanding?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: First, I have to make clear that we haven’t seen any of the evidence in this matter to date. The prosecutor has failed in her obligations under the European Convention to provide us with any evidence or the allegations in English. The first document we have received in English, which is her obligation under that convention, with respect to Mr. Assange, was Monday, when we received the arrest warrant, and there was a very short notation of the offenses and the basic facts underlying those offenses. So, as to any earlier correspondence between the complainants and Julian and their motivation for going to the police, we only know what we’ve been able to read in the press, which is a highly unsatisfactory position to be in.
AMY GOODMAN: One of Julian Assange’s attorneys, one of your colleagues, John Jones, said the case must be "shorn of all political and media hysteria" associated with WikiLeaks. He said Assange was of previous good character and had voluntarily handed himself in to the Kentish Town police station in London. His refusal to be photographed, fingerprinted or give a DNA sample was on legal advice.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: That’s absolutely correct. We advised him not to voluntarily submit his DNA — that was overruled by the police — because it’s not legally clear whether he is required to, by law, to provide that DNA evidence in extradition proceedings. And we will take that point up further down the track in the court. And so, the judge, quite rightly, held that that was not evidence of his lack of cooperation with the proceedings. Indeed, he had handed himself in voluntarily. We have constantly offered cooperation, in various forms of cooperation, with both the Swedish and British authorities. The suggestion that he is not cooperating is absolutely incorrect.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Robinson is one of the attorneys for Julian Assange. Jennifer, I wanted to play a clip of Claes Borgström, the attorney for one of the women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by Assange. Borgström dismissed the case, that the case against Assange was political.
CLAES BORGSTRÖM: Well, it is a very difficult situation for these two young women. First, they were, in one way or another, molested by Julian Assange, which is frustrating, of course. And after that, they have been suspected themselves of conspiracy and/or it has something to do with the WikiLeaks and the CIA, etc., which is nonsense. This is unfortunately a rather ordinary case that many, many women, they face this kind of situation. It has nothing to do with the international aspect.
AMY GOODMAN: That was an attorney for one of the women. Jennifer Robinson, your response? And also, can you explain Sweden’s sexual assault laws?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Of course. I’d be happy to. Unfortunately, I’m not a Swedish lawyer, and we are still trying to get to the bottom of them. The actual charge that’s been brought is one that is not known in English law. That is for certain. So we are actually not in a position to understand, and we’ll be bringing expert evidence on the nature of Swedish law in that regard.
As to Mr. Borgström’s comments we of course empathize with the women in this case. The way this matter has been handled has drawn it out unnecessarily and brought intense media coverage. It’s highly unsatisfactory that the evidence in this case has at times been leaked to the press, which has raised their profile and allowed — and opened them to adverse media coverage. So we do — I do emphasize with them on that front. These are clearly very serious allegations, and we take them very seriously. And had the prosecutor offered Julian the opportunity to give his testimony, we wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in now. So, of course, the allegations have to be taken very seriously.
As to allegations made against the women, we haven’t seen all of the evidence, but we have heard from press reports, and we know from the facts, that both women had consensual sex with Julian. They both maintained a relationship with him after the alleged incidents, which suggests that it would be highly unlikely for someone to — who was — who had felt they had been molested by a person to maintain friendly contact with that person after the event. So, we’re trying to — if and when we can get access to this evidence, we’ll be in a better position to assess, but there are real questions behind the evidence, and I don’t think it’s as straightforward as Mr. Borgström presents.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are Julian Assange’s — what is he doing right now? Where is he being held? And what will happen on December 14th, when another hearing is held before the same judge? Why will things change from yesterday?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Mr. Assange is now being held in a prison in southwest London. We are making arrangements at present to visit him very soon to take his instructions on the appeal. We will of course be appealing the decision on bail. And I think it’s important to note that the judge actually went to some length in court yesterday to set out the reasons in support of bail application, and we’re confident that we will be able to win that appeal next week.
He was obviously — the judge showed great concern for the apparent lack of evidence provided, and indeed he even referred to the weakness of the evidence that underlies this arrest warrant and specifically directed the prosecutor to instruct him on that evidence. So, we are very keen to get to the bottom of this. And we note, too, that demands to the Swedish prosecutor for evidence have been denied. She is out of time on a demand that we put for all of the evidence in this matter, including text messages between the two women after the alleged incidents and before they went to the police. These are critical matters that we need to get to the bottom of, and we are reviewing those and pressing those requests to the prosecutor at present.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Robinson, I also wanted to get your comment on Charlie Savage’s piece in the New York Times. You may not have read it, but it says the Justice Department is "considering whether and how it might indict Julian Assange [...] looking beyond the Espionage Act of 1917 to other possible offenses, including conspiracy or trafficking in stolen property." Your comment?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Again, I think many of these calls for his prosecution in the U.S. have been hyperbole, and I await a sensible analysis of what provisions he would be prosecuted under. We are obviously very concerned about what the legal position is in the U.S., particularly with the very outspoken threats of prosecution. We are following it closely. And, of course, we’re very concerned, because we think that there is a very strong chance that any extradition to Sweden would just be a precursor of extradition to the U.S. And given the nature of the statements coming out of public officials in the U.S., we have grave concerns for our client’s right to due process.
AMY GOODMAN: And the rules between extradition between Britain and the United States and Sweden and the United States, how they differ?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Both countries have extradition agreements with the U.S., so the U.S. can of course seek his extradition from Britain. We would much prefer to fight the extradition here from Britain. Britain has a very strong tradition of liberty and a strong adversarial proceeding. Sweden, on the other hand, is not renowned for that. So we would much prefer to fight it on this ground. And so, obviously, extradition is possible from both countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid for Julian Assange’s safety?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Yes, of course we are, both in terms of his ability to get a proper defense and his ability to be provided due process, but also his own safety in terms of the numerous threats for assassination, which have been coming both out of the U.S. and elsewhere. So, we do take those concerns very seriously.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, last question — Fox, one of Fox News’s Democratic commentators — his name is Bob Beckel — said he wanted Julian Assange illegally killed. He said that American special forces should do that. He said, "A dead man can’t leak stuff." Beckel went on to say, "This guy’s a traitor. He’s treasonous. He has broken every law of the United States. And I’m not for the death penalty, so [...] there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a" — and it goes from there. Jennifer Robinson, your final response?
JENNIFER ROBINSON: Well, that is — apart from being appalling and outrageous, it’s inconsistent to be against the death penalty but to suggest that someone ought to be killed illegally. Obviously we take these sorts of very public pronouncements incredibly seriously. And people making these statements ought to be reported to the police for incitement to violence. We’ve seen in Canada, actually, the former adviser to the Prime Minister — and I think you showed his footage last time I spoke to you — has been the subject of a police complaint, and the file has gone to the director of public prosecutions in Canada. So people making these statements ought to be aware that there are legal ramifications.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Robinson, we want to thank you for taking the time with us today. Jennifer Robinson is one of the attorneys for Julian Assange. She’s speaking to us from London. He has been held without bail. Their next court hearing will be December 14th.