8 Dec 2010

WikiLeaks founder in custody in UK

10:05 pm on 8 December 2010

A court in London has remanded WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in custody after he was arrested over allegations of sexual assault.

Mr Assange, whose website has been publishing thousands of leaked US diplomatic cables, handed himself in to London police on Tuesday and was detained on a European arrest warrant.

The 39-year-old Australian denies allegations that he sexually assaulted two women in Sweden earlier this year and told the court he will fight attempts to extradite him.

The whistle-blowing website said the arrest would not stop plans to release more of the 250,000 classified US documents it had obtained.

The US and other governments have argued the publication of cables is irresponsible and could put their national security at risk.

The WikiLeaks site was shut down after apparent political pressure on service providers, but WikiLeaks said there were now 750 global mirror sites meaning the data so far released remained publicly available.

A spokesman for the website said it was being operated by a group in London and at other secret locations.

A spokesperson for the US State Department says Mr Assange's arrest has nothing to do with the US.

Celebrities offer to stand bail

Five people, including journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the sister of Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, stood up in court offering to put up sureties.

Mr Pilger, who offered £20,000 pounds, told the court the charges against Mr Assange in Sweden were absurd.

However, Mr Assange will remain behind bars until a fresh hearing on 14 December.

'Political motivation'

The website founder's British lawyer Mark Stephens said a renewed bail application would be made.

He said many people believed the prosecution was politically motivated, and that Mr Assange would be "released and vindicated".

Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny said the sexual misconduct case is a personal matter and not connected with Mr Assange's work releasing secret cables.

Ms Ny was quoted by newspaper Aftonbladet as saying there was nothing to indicate the case against him is a plot.

Financial pressure mounts

Credit payment system Visa has suspended all payments to the website as it investigates whether WikiLeaks' business contravened its operating rules.

Other payment companies, Mastercard and PayPal, have already severed their links to WikiLeaks.

BBC correspondents say this will hamper the website's ability to operate as it relies on donations made over the internet by a worldwide network of supporters.

WikiLeaks was forced to switch to a Swiss host server after several US internet service providers refused to handle it, and has also come under cyber attack.