/ 17 December 2010

Assange says he is victim of smears

Assange Says He Is Victim Of Smears

WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange has declared that he is the victim of a smear campaign after being freed on bail over rape allegations and sent to spend Christmas at an English country house.

The 39-year-old Australian computer expert said that curbs on him, which he described as “hi-tech house arrest”, would not halt the release of official secrets.

Assange walked free from a London court on Thursday, freed on £200 000 ($312 500) bail after nine days in London’s largest jail. Sweden wants to extradite him for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two WikiLeaks’ volunteers.

“This has been a very successful smear campaign and a very wrong one,” Assange told the BBC after arriving late on Thursday at the country house in Suffolk, eastern England where he will spend Christmas and the New Year.

He said he expected further attempted smears from the Swedish authorities but did not elaborate.

Assange angered the US authorities after his organisation began releasing some of the 250 000 secret US diplomatic cables it had obtained, teaming up with newspapers around the world to amplify their impact.

Assange said his opponents had seized on the accusations against him to attack WikiLeaks.

“One only needs to look at the sneering smile of Defence Secretary [Robert] Gates upon hearing of my arrest … to understand the value to opponents of this organisation,” Assange said. Gates last week described Assange’s arrest as good news.

Assange is accused of having unprotected sex with one woman, and sex with another while she was asleep.

‘Hi-tech house arrest’
As part of his bail conditions, Assange must stay at the sprawling house owned by former British army officer Vaughan Smith, situated close to the city of Norwich, around three hours’ drive from London.

Smith has said that the internet connection at the house is not good. Assange, who must report to police daily, abide by a curfew and wear an electronic tag, said the conditions were “a gross impediment to my work” but would not stop him.

“Now that I am back to assist directing of our ship, our work will proceed in a faster manner. But as we have seen with my absence, things are well set up to proceed even without my direct involvement.” Assange told reporters soon after his release that he was more concerned the United States might try to extradite him than he was about being extradited to Sweden.

Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that US prosecutors might be preparing to indict him for espionage over WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents.

Australian police said WikiLeaks was not committing any criminal offence in Assange’s home country by releasing the US cables.

Celebrities such as journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and socialite Jemima Khan are backing Assange.

Janice Game (63) who lives opposite the Georgian house said she had come out to see reporters waiting in the snow for Assange to drive through the gates of the 263 hectare estate.

“I do not think that Vaughan would have him at the house unless he believed completely that he was innocent,” she said. – Reuters