LONDON (AP) — Police ratcheted up the pressure on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday, asking European officers to arrest him on rape charges as his organization continued to embarass the Obama adminstration with a stream of leaked diplomatic cables.
Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, disappeared from public view after a Nov. 5 press conference in Geneva. He has spoken publicly only through online interviews, while a statement from his lawyer said the Australian was being persecuted by Swedish officials who are seeking his arrest on sex crime charges.
Sweden's director of public prosecution, Marianne Ny, said a European arrest warrant had been issued for Mr. Assange in connection with the allegations.
London-based lawyer Mark Stephens complained that Mr. Assange had yet to receive formal notice of the allegations he faces — something he described as a legal requirement under European law.
Mr. Stephens was scathing in his condemnation of Ms. Ny, saying he had never come across a prosecutor who has "such casual disregard" for her obligations
"Given that Sweden is a civilized country, I am reluctantly forced to conclude that this is a persecution and not a prosecution," Mr. Stephens wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
Ms. Ny's office said that "for secrecy reasons, she cannot give more information concerning this matter at the moment," while Scotland Yard and Britain's Serious and Organized Crime Agency, which processes European warrants, also declined comment.
Mr. Assange is wanted on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. The exact nature of the allegations isn't completely clear, although Mr. Stephens in the past has described them as a part of "a post-facto dispute over consensual, but unprotected, sex." Swedish prosecutors have disagreed about whether to label the most serious charge as rape.
Formal charges have not been filed, but a detention order issued at Ms. Ny's request on Nov. 18 remains in force pending an appeal by Mr. Assange. The case is now before Sweden's Supreme Court, which will make a decision Wednesday or Thursday.
Mr. Assange's secret-spilling group has leaked a series of confidential U.S. intelligence and diplomatic reports this year, including the disclosure earlier this week of hundreds of classified State Department cables. U.S. officials have reacted with outrage, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accusing WikiLeaks of acting illegally and promising "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."
Mr. Stephens, who also represents the Associated Press, said he was investigating whether the Swedish case was linked to U.S. promises to prosecute those behind the leaks.
Mrs. Clinton said she discussed the leak with her colleagues at a security summit Wednesday in Kazakhstan and said the revelations will not hurt American diplomacy — despite unflattering descriptions of some foreign leaders contained in some of the cables.
Other cables being picked over in the world media have revealed requests for U.S. diplomats to gather personal information on their foreign counterparts, highlighted Western concerns that Islamist militants might get access to Pakistan's nuclear material, and American skepticism that Islamabad will sever ties to Taliban factions fighting in Afghanistan.
They also showed U.S. doubts over the abilities of Pakistan's weak, unpopular civilian government
"I have certainly raised the issue of the leaks in order to assure our colleagues that it will not in any way interfere with American diplomacy or our commitment to continuing important work that is ongoing," Mrs. Clinton said. "I have not any had any concerns expressed about whether any nation will not continue to work with and discuss matters of importance to us both going forward."
Several officials at the summit echoed her comments.
Mr. Assange told Time magazine that Mrs. Clinton should resign "if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations" in violation of international agreements.
The White House said his statements "are both ridiculous and absurd" and U.S. diplomats do not engage in spying.
Malin Rising reported from Stockholm.