WikiLeaks’ Assange to challenge arrest order

A UK-based lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said his client plans to challenge an order for his arrest issued on Thursday by a Swedish court on charges of rape and sexual molestation.

Speaking after a Swedish prosecutor said an international warrant would be issued for Assange, attorney Mark Stephens confirmed his client was in London earlier Thursday but refused to disclose his current whereabouts.

Stephens told AFP the decision by the court in Stockholm was “still a little premature because the Swedish process hasn’t finished its course — there are still appeals (to be made) in Sweden.”

Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, has strongly denied the charges and hinted that they could be part of a “smear campaign” against Wikileaks for publishing classified US documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stephens blasted the Swedish prosecutor, saying that Thursday’s hearing was the first time Assange’s lawyers had heard the full details of the charges since the allegations were made public in August.

The rape charge “is not made out under the facts”, Stephens added.

“Both the prosecutor and the defence agree that it was an incident of consensual sex where the condom broke. They are saying that amounts to rape, we are saying it doesn’t,” he added.

The lawyer said his client had been in London on Thursday morning but he would not say where he was now.

“He moves around and keeps his location fairly discreet but, that said, he hasn’t run away from this. He has sought to vindicate his name.”

In a statement issued before the ruling, Stephens said Assange had repeatedly offered to be questioned both in Sweden and in Britain over the charges of rape and sexual molestation.

He added that the case was “not a prosecution, but a persecution.”

Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency said it did not comment on international arrest warrants until the person involved had been detained.

“In a case of any international or European arrest warrant you need to speak to the serving authority. We cannot comment on any warrant being possibly received,” said a spokesman for the agency.

Under British law, foreign arrest warrants must be certified by the agency and if the subject is in Britain they are then detained, usually by Scotland Yard’s extradition unit, a police source said.

The detainee would then appear in a magistrates court in central London for an extradition hearing. If the court orders their extradition the person can appeal against the decision.

WikiLeaks last month published 400,000 classified US documents on the Iraq war. It enraged US authorities by posting 77,000 secret US files on the Afghan conflict in July.

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