Wik­iLeaks founder As­sange ques­tioned by pros­e­cu­tors

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange was be­ing ques­tioned by pros­e­cu­tors yes­ter­day at the Ecuado­ran em­bassy in Lon­don in the lat­est twist in the long-run­ning le­gal bat­tle over a rape al­le­ga­tion against him. Swedish pros­e­cu­tor In­grid Is­gren, who will at­tend while As­sange is ques­tioned by an Ecuado­ran pros­e­cu­tor en­tered the em­bassy build­ing shortly be­fore 1000 GMT, an AFP pho­tog­ra­pher said. As­sange’s lawyer Per Sa­muels­son has said the ques­tion­ing, which has been de­layed in the past be­cause of diplo­matic dis­agree­ments be­tween Ecuador and Swe­den, could last for sev­eral days.

A Swedish po­lice in­spec­tor will also at­tend and in­ves­ti­ga­tors plan to take a DNA sam­ple from As­sange, sub­ject to his agree­ment. The cre­ator of the se­cret-spilling web­site has been holed up in the red-brick build­ing be­hind Har­rods lux­ury depart­ment store for more than four years. The 45-year-old Aus­tralian sought refuge in the em­bassy in June 2012 af­ter Swedish pros­e­cu­tors is­sued a Euro­pean ar­rest war­rant against him, over al­le­ga­tions of rape and sex­ual as­sault filed by two women who met As­sange dur­ing a 2010 trip to Swe­den. He de­nied the claims, say­ing they were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, and in­sist­ing his sex­ual en­coun­ters with the two women were con­sen­sual.

He has re­fused to travel to Swe­den for ques­tion­ing, fear­ing he would be ex­tra­dited to the United States over Wik­iLeaks’ re­lease of 500,000 se­cret mil­i­tary files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.Swedish pros­e­cu­tors dropped the sex­ual as­sault probe last year af­ter the five-year statute of lim­i­ta­tions ex­pired. But they still want to ques­tion him about the 2010 rape al­le­ga­tion, which car­ries a 10-year statute of lim­i­ta­tions. “It’s planned to last a few days,” Sa­muels­son said, adding that it was too early to say what might arise from the meet­ing or what would be made pub­lic. It will be the first time As­sange has been in­ter­viewed over the mat­ter since ini­tial ques­tion­ing by Swedish po­lice at the time of the al­le­ga­tion. As­sange, speak­ing through his lawyer, has said he wel­comes the “chance to clear his name” and hopes the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will sub­se­quently close. In May, a Swedish court reaf­firmed the ar­rest or­der, re­ject­ing the find­ing of a UN work­ing group that his con­fine­ment in the Ecuado­ran em­bassy amounted to ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion.

Pe­ti­tion for Trump ‘par­don’

In the days since the US elec­tion, sup­port­ers have launched a pe­ti­tion call­ing on Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to par­don As­sange by “ab­solv­ing him of any crimes al­leged against him”-an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to the mil­i­tary leaks. The pe­ti­tion on the change.org web­site, which has gath­ered more than 17,700 sig­na­tures, hails As­sange as a “hero” for ex­pos­ing the “cor­rup­tion of those who pre­sume to rule us”.

As­sange’s lawyer said he had made “re­peated re­quests” for an in­ter­view with po­lice to ad­dress the rape claim, though Ecuado­ran pros­e­cu­tors say a hear­ing sched­uled for Oc­to­ber was post­poned at the Aus­tralian’s re­quest. “Ju­lian As­sange has al­ways wanted to tell his ver­sion to the Swedish po­lice. He wants a chance to clear his name,” Sa­muels­son said. The le­gal grilling comes af­ter Wik­iLeaks re­turned to the spot­light with the leak of tens of thou­sands of emails from the US Demo­cratic Party and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign in the fi­nal weeks of the race for the White House.

As­sange de­fended the pub­li­ca­tion, deny­ing links with Rus­sia and claims that his web­site was try­ing to in­flu­ence the US vote which saw Trump, a repub­li­can, elected. Ten­sions with his Ecuado­ran hosts have been grow­ing, with the leaks prompt­ing the em­bassy to cut As­sange’s in­ter­net ac­cess, cit­ing re­spect for “non-in­ter­ven­tion” in the af­fairs of other states and their elec­toral pro­cesses. Wik­iLeaks re­leased med­i­cal records in Septem­ber claim­ing As­sange’s men­tal health was at risk if he re­mained any longer in the em­bassy. — AFP

LON­DON: Pro­test­ers hold ban­ners that read ‘Free As­sange’ out­side the Ecuado­rian Em­bassy in Lon­don yes­ter­day where Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange was be­ing ques­tioned over a rape al­le­ga­tion against him. — AFP

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