The arrest and detention of Julian Assange Tuesday on charges of assault was at the least a convenient development for government leaders who’ve sought ways to contain the leader of the controversial website Wikileaks.But in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Jim Sciutto, Wikileaks’ spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson insisted Assange’s arrest won’t alter the site’s calculated release of thousands of secret government cables, which still continues according to plan. The site published a new slate of cables today.
“It is not derailing us in any way,” said Hrafnsson, adding that a group of five to six people is running Wikileaks’ operations in Assange’s absence. “This is a turning tide and starting a trend that you can’t really stop unless you want to shut down the Internet.”
Meanwhile, supporters of Assange are saying the timing and nature of the personal allegations against him are more than coincidence – they’re “politically motivated.” And the confluence of recent events gives at least the appearance that could be true.
Assange, 39, was formally charged and held without bond in London.
“Fortunately, the international corralling was successful,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said shortly after Assange’s arrest. “Assange has hurt international diplomatic relations and I hope he is questioned and tried as established by law.”
Assange’s brainchild, Wikileaks, is also weathering its most intense attacks to date. The site has been bumped from its servers without notice and mysteriously cut off from key funding sources after PayPal and major credit card companies, Visa and MasterCard, pulled the plug pending “further investigation.”
“We are getting seriously close to censorship in the U.S., and that must surely go against the fundamental values the country is based upon,” said Hrafnsson.
But State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said via Twitter “the U.S. government did not write to PayPal requesting any action regarding #WikiLeaks. Not true.”
Swiss authorities Monday closed a Swiss bank account tied to Assange, freezing tens of thousands of dollars used to fund the Wikileaks operation, his lawyers said.
“It wouldn’t be surprising in the least that Wikileaks and political pressure from the U.S. and other affected governments has at least something to do with the current charges in Sweden,” said American University law professor Stephen Vladeck, an expert in national security and international criminal law. But “whether it’s because of that pressure [that he faces charges] is something I think we can’t know.”