WikiLeaks chief Assange moved to isolation in UK jail

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange was in a segregation unit of a London jail on Saturday for his safety, as new secret United States diplomatic cables were made public, increasing the embarrassment to Washington.

The 39-year-old Australian has been transferred from the main section of Wandsworth prison to an isolation unit, Jennifer Robinson, one of his legal team, said on Friday.

“The prison authorities are doing it for his own safety, presumably,” she said.

Assange is due to appear in a London court for a second time on Tuesday after being arrested on a warrant issued by Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about allegations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women.

WikiLeaks insists the allegations are politically motivated because the whistle-blowing website has enraged Washington and governments around the world by releasing thousands of classified US diplomatic cables.

Robinson complained that Assange “does not get any recreation” in the prison and “has difficulties getting phone calls out … he is on his own”.

In good spirits
The former computer hacker is not allowed to have a laptop in his cell, but his lawyers have requested one.

“We are trying to prepare a legal appeal and he has difficulties handwriting, so it would be much easier in order to assist us in the preparation if he had a laptop,” Robinson said, without explaining why he had difficulty writing.

Assange is in “very good” spirits but “frustrated” that he cannot answer the allegations that WikiLeaks was behind cyber attacks launched on credit card firms that have refused to do business with the website.

“He told me he is absolutely not involved and this is a deliberate attempt to conflate WikiLeaks, which is a publishing organisation, with hacking organisations which are not,” she said.

The websites of the Dutch prosecutor’s office and police became the latest target of cyber attacks on Friday, “probably” linked to the arrest of a 16-year-old WikiLeaks supporter, officials said.

Assange’s lawyer, however, denied reports that his legal team believe a US indictment over WikiLeaks is imminent.

But she added: “Our position is that any prosecution under the espionage Act would be unconstitutional and call into question First Amendment protections for all media organisations.”

Assange’s mother said she was worried for her son because “massive forces” were ranged against him.

Christine Assange dismissed the rape accusations, but told Australia’s Seven Network she was concerned about what will happen to him.

“Julian, rape? Straight out of my guts — no way. Julian would not rape,” she said, adding: “It’s a worry, of course. I am no different from any other mother.

“These massive forces have decided they are going to stop him and they are not going to play by the rules.”

Difficult decision
US cables released by WikiLeaks on Friday showed that mining giant BHP Billiton lobbied the Australian government hard to bring down a proposed $19,5-billion deal between its rival Rio Tinto and China’s Chinalco.

The deal’s collapse “spared” Canberra from having to make a difficult decision on whether to approve the proposal, but left then-prime minister Kevin Rudd to face “an unhappy China”, the cable said.

Another leaked cable showed that London’s envoy to the Vatican feared the pope’s invitation for disgruntled Anglicans to switch to Catholicism might spark anti-Catholic violence in Britain.

And Julieta Noyes, US deputy chief of mission to the Vatican, wrote in a classified cable that the Vatican helped secure the release of 15 British navy personnel detained by Iran in 2007.

Against a backdrop of deadly protests in Tehran over the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, she wrote: “It [the Vatican] has been publicly silent to date on the current crisis, in part to preserve its ability to act as an intermediary if an international crisis emerges.

“The Vatican helped secure the release of British sailors detained in Iranian waters in April 2007.”

But she provided no further detail and added: “It is unclear how much clout the Vatican really has with Iran, however.”

Another cable dated April 11 2007 says the British credited Oman with helping secure the sailors’ release, after the foreign minister made regular calls to the Iranian authorities to urge they be freed. — AFP

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