Sweden drops rape accusation against WikiLeaks founder
Swedish authorities say they have revoked an arrest warrant that had alleged rape against the founder and editor of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
Assange is “no longer wanted” and “is not suspected of rape,” Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne said in a statement posted on the agency’s official website Saturday. He is also no longer arrested in absentia, the statement said.
The arrest warrant filed Friday had also mentioned a molestation charge, but molestation is not a crime punishable behind bars in Sweden.
Earlier, Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, said Assange was arrested in absentia Friday night, and faced charges in relation to two separate instances, but she didn’t have more detail about when the alleged crimes occurred or who the alleged victims are.
Assange denied the allegations in a posting Saturday on the WikiLeaks Twitter page, saying, “The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.”
Assange was in Sweden last weekend, but Rosander said it’s not clear whether he is still in the country.
An elusive figure, Assange reportedly lives part-time in Sweden. He told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet this week that he chose Sweden to host several servers for WikiLeaks because of the country’s privacy laws.
He also told the paper, in an interview published Monday, that he had been in Sweden because he wanted a safe place to go after the high-profile leak of U.S. documents related to the war in Afghanistan.
A statement was posted by the “WikiLeaks team” on the website earlier Saturday, saying, “We are deeply concerned about the seriousness of these allegations. We the people behind WikiLeaks think highly of Julian and and he has our full support.”
WikiLeaks will continue its work as “Julian is focusing on his defenses and clearing his name,” the statement said.
WikiLeaks has sparked major controversy by posting some 76,000 pages of those documents online last month, in what was called the biggest leak since the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized the leak, saying it would have a significant negative impact on troops and allies, revealing techniques and procedures.
”The charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.”
–Julian Assange, WikiLeaks on Twitter
Assange has defended the leak by saying it can help shape the public’s understanding of the war. He said the material was of no operational significance and that WikiLeaks tried to ensure the material did not put innocent people at risk.
Assange reportedly has spent his life developing the tech skills needed to set up WikiLeaks. When he was a teenager in Melbourne, Australia, he belonged to a hacker collective called the International Subversives, according to the magazine Mother Jones.
He eventually pleaded guilty to multiple counts of breaking into Australian government and commercial websites to test their security gaps, but was released on bond for “good behavior,” the magazine said.
As WikiLeaks has grown and published increasingly high-profile items, Assange has found himself the target of what he says are many legal attacks — though not necessarily of the type he now faces in Sweden.
“In my role as Wikileaks editor, I’ve been involved in fighting off many legal attacks,” Assange said in an e-mail to the BBC earlier this year. “To do that, and keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world to activate protective laws in different national jurisdictions.
“We’ve become good at it, and never lost a case, or a source, but we can’t expect everyone to go through the extraordinary efforts that we do.”
In a news conference following the release of the Afghan documents, Assange said the site has 800 part-time volunteers and a loose network of 70,000 “supporters.”