LONDON/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Friday he and colleagues were taking steps to protect themselves after death threats following the publication of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables on their website.
One of Assange’s lawyers said he would also fight any attempt to extradite his client to face questions over alleged sexual misconduct, adding that he believed foreign powers were influencing Sweden in the matter.
Washington is furious about the leak of hundreds of confidential diplomatic cables that have given unvarnished and sometimes embarrassing insights into the foreign policy of the United States and its allies.
Answering questions online from an undisclosed location, the 39-year-old Australian said anyone making threats against his life should be charged with incitement to murder.
“The threats against our lives are a matter of public record, however, we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a superpower,” Assange was quoted as saying on the Guardian website.
Britain’s Guardian is one of a number of newspapers around the world with early access to diplomatic cables seen by WikiLeaks.
Assange, who is reported to be somewhere in southern England, has his own legal woes.
Swedish authorities said information missing from a European arrest warrant they had issued against Assange for alleged sex crimes had been handed to British authorities.
“We sent it. They asked for complementary information and now they have it,” Swedish Prosecution Authority spokeswoman Karin Rosander said.
Bjorn Hurtig, a lawyer representing Assange, told Reuters he would not say where Assange was right now nor when he last spoke to him, though they were in “constant contact”.
But he said an attempt to extradite him from another country, for example from Britain, would be resisted in court.
“If it is in a country where they speak English, I know that my co-counsel Mark Stephens will help me in fighting this extradition order and he will do so vigorously,” he said in a telephone interview.
Stephens said he thought any arrest was not imminent.
“The Swedes have done their homework again and it’s been resubmitted to teacher and we will see whether they have managed to get it right this time,” he told Reuters.
“I expect it to take another 10 days or so to be communicated. Because it has to go through official diplomatic channels from Sweden to Brussels and then on to Scotland Yard.”
WikiLeaks founder Assange in the past has spent much of his time in Sweden, and earlier this year was accused of sexual misconduct by two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers.
This led Swedish prosecutors to open, then drop, then re-open an investigation into the allegations. The crime he is suspected of is the least severe of three categories of rape, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.
Assange has not been formally charged with any crime in Sweden and denies any wrongdoing.
Hurtig said the measures taken by both Swedish and international authorities in the case made him suspicious, though he said he did not suspect foul play from a foreign power in regards to the accusations against Assange.
“I have seen the documents, and I can’t say that I think it is a set-up by the CIA or something,” he said.
“But I suspect that there is someone else who is pushing Sweden to (take) these most unproportional measures that they are doing right now, and are pushing Sweden to push Interpol to make this arrest warrant public.”
“I think somebody has an interest in getting Julian (Assange) to Sweden and maybe asking for him to be extradited to another country.”
Assange, who set up WikiLeaks in 2006, was asked whether it would have been better had the website remained a faceless and anonymous organization.
“In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good,” he said.
WikiLeaks directed readers to web addresses in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland on Friday after two U.S. Internet providers ditched it in the space of two days, and Paris tried to ban French servers from hosting its trove of leaked data.
The Internet publisher directed users to www.wikileaks.ch, www.wikileaks.nl and other sites after the wikileaks.org site on which it had published classified U.S. government information vanished from view for about six hours.
Assange said efforts to suppress the diplomatic cables would ultimately fail.
“The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the U.S. and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form.”
“If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archive is in the hands of multiple news organizations. History will win.” (Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard in Stockholm, Stefano Ambrogi in London and Georgina Prodhan in Paris; Editing by Jon Hemming)