WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been transferred to the segregation unit of the London prison where he has been held since his arrest earlier this week. Assange’s attorneys will ask for his release on bail at a hearing next Tuesday. Assange was jailed on an international warrant to face sexual crime allegations in Sweden. He has not been charged with a crime but is wanted for questioning on allegations of unlawful sexual contact with two women. On Thursday, Assange’s attorneys distanced Assange from a wave of ongoing cyber-attacks targeting companies and others who have taken action against WikiLeaks. Firms including PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and Amazon have cut ties with WikiLeaks after the U.S. government condemned its release of secret diplomatic cables. Speaking in Geneva, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the moves against WikiLeaks could be violating its right to free speech.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “I am concerned about the reports of pressure exerted on private companies, including banks, credit cards companies and internet service providers, to close down credit lines for donations to WikiLeaks, as well as to stop hosting the website or its mirror sites. Taken as a whole, they could be interpreted as an attempt to censor the publication of information, thus potentially violating WikiLeaks’ right to freedom of expression.”
Despite kicking WikiLeaks off its servers, Amazon’s website in Britain is still selling the WikiLeaks cables in downloadable electronic format.
The latest diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer hired investigators to find evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general to pressure him to drop legal action over fraudulent drug tests on Nigerian children. In 1996, 11 children died in a drug test of Pfizer’s antibiotic drug Trovan. A lawsuit brought by the Nigerian government said children also suffered injuries including deafness, muteness, paralysis, brain damage, loss of sight, slurred speech. The cable also reports Pfizer’s investigators passed information to the Nigerian media in an effort to tarnish the attorney general’s reputation. Pfizer reached a tentative settlement in the case last year of around $75 million.
The latest WikiLeaks cables also include a dispatch from Burma alleging construction of secret nuclear and missile sites by the Burmese junta. A Burmese officer is quoted as saying North Korean technicians have helped build an underground facility in a remote jungle.
The U.S. Department of Justice says it continues to weigh legal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including possible violations of the Espionage Act. The U.S. military meanwhile is taking new measures to prevent additional leaks. According to Wired magazine, troops have been ordered to stop using CDs, DVDs, thumb drives and every other form of removable media or risk a court-martial.
WikiLeaks supporters meanwhile are mobilizing worldwide. Here in New York, demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Federal Building on Thursday to denounce the targeting of WikiLeaks. Hundreds of people are taking part in rallies today in Julian Assange’s native Australia to call on the Australian government to support Assange. In Brazil, outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva emerged as one of WikiLeaks’ highest-profile supporters to date with a message of solidarity.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: “Blame who wrote the nonsense; otherwise, it would not have been such a scandal. So, to WikiLeaks, I express my solidarity regarding the release of these cables, and I protest against the restrictions to freedom of speech.”
The Senate appears headed toward approval of President Obama’s controversial fiscal deal with Republicans amidst an uproar by Democratic members of the House. This week, Obama agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and reduce the estate tax in return for a 13-month extension of jobless benefits and a handful of tax credits for low- and moderate-income Americans. According to the New York Times, at least a quarter of the tax savings under the deal will go to the wealthiest one percent of the population. The only group that will see its taxes increase are the nation’s lowest-paid workers. The Senate has scheduled a test vote on Monday after opening debate on the measure last night. Meanwhile in the House, the Democratic caucus passed a non-binding measure denouncing the tax deal. At the White House, President Obama urged lawmakers to drop their opposition.
President Obama: “The average American family will start 2011 knowing that there will be more money to pay the bills each month, more money to pay for tuition, more money to raise their children. But if this framework fails, the reverse is true. Americans would see it in smaller paychecks that would have the effect of fewer jobs. So as we meet here today to talk about one important facet of our economic strategy for the future, I urge members of Congress to move forward on this essential priority.”
The U.S. Senate has failed to advance a measure that would repeal the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” On Thursday, the Senate fell three votes short of advancing a military spending bill with a repeal provision attached. The vote raises the prospect that the ban will not be repealed before Republicans take over the House and weaken the Democrats’ Senate majority next month. In another vote, Republicans also blocked a measure to advance the DREAM Act, a provision that would grant undocumented young people a chance at citizenship. Republicans also blocked a measure to provide up to $7.4 billion to workers sickened during the cleanup at the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attacks. The measure passed the House earlier this year.
The jailed Chinese human rights activist and writer Liu Xiaobo has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo today. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year after spearheading a petition calling for freedom of assembly, expression and religion in China. For the first time since the 1930s, a representative of the winner is not on hand to collect the award. Liu Xiaobo’s wife has been under house arrest since October, when the Nobel Prize was announced. Ahead of the ceremony, Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland rejected China’s denunciation of the award.
Thorbjørn Jagland: “After this prize, the pressure from the outside world will be heavy. It will be quite difficult for many political leaders not to raise human rights issues in China when they meet with the Chinese leaders. And I think also that the prize and why the prize came will be spreading in the Chinese society.”
A number of countries boycotted the ceremony following protests from the Chinese government.
In Britain, tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of London and other cities Thursday as lawmakers approved a new round of education cuts and tuition hikes. The measures were part of a sweeping austerity package unveiled in October. A group of protesters confronted a vehicle carrying Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles, reportedly smashing a window. The royal couple were unhurt.
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