WikiLeaks' Assange: Under Arrest, Fighting Extradition

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Valentin Flauraud / Files / Reuters

Julian Assange attends a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in this Nov. 4, 2010, file photo

Julian Assange, founder and spokesman of the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks, turned himself in to British police on Tuesday as part of a Swedish sex-crimes investigation.

Assange now faces questioning in relation to accusations by two women in Sweden whose various claims include having sex with him that was not fully consensual. After appearing at the City of Westminster Magistrate's Court in London on Tuesday afternoon, Assange was refused bail, and he said he will fight extradition to Sweden. He has not been formally charged with any crime and denies any wrongdoing.

After the accusations against him surfaced this past summer, Assange left Sweden without being interviewed but was summoned back by an arrest warrant in November, a move Assange tried to appeal. On Dec. 2, the country's highest court refused Assange permission to appeal the arrest order, which led prosecutors to issue a European arrest warrant in his name.

Assange's attorneys in the U.K. and Sweden had been complaining to the Swedish Prosecution Authority that an arrest warrant was unnecessary, as Assange was always willing to face questioning in a Swedish embassy abroad or via telephone or video link. But lead Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny told TIME earlier this week that an arrest warrant was issued because Swedish law prohibits formal legal interviews over a telephone or via a video link.

According to various media reports, two women went to the Swedish police in August alleging that sex with Assange that had started as consensual had become non-consensual. At Assange's hearing on Tuesday afternoon details emerged of the alleged offences as the Swedish prosecutors outlined the charges. One charge alleges Assange had unprotected sex with a woman, identified only as Miss A, when she insisted he use a condom. Another alleges he sexually molested the same woman on a different occasion. Another charges Assange with having unprotected sex with another woman, Miss W, while she was asleep.

Assange's arrest comes as WikiLeaks faces mounting pressure on several fronts. Yesterday, Swiss bank PostFinance issued a statement announcing that it had frozen $41,000 in an account set up as a legal defense fund for Assange. The bank said it took action because Assange had claimed Geneva as his domicile when opening the account, but this had proved incorrect and he could not show that he is a Swiss resident.

On its Twitter account yesterday, WikiLeaks reported that it had been the target of a deluge of cyberattacks that led to the registration for its URL being pulled, but by mid-Monday, the site had reappeared on more than 500 domains. Last week, two U.S. Internet providers booted the website off their servers in the space of two days, and the French government tried to ban French servers from hosting its database.

But Assange, a former computer hacker, is not without his cybersupporters. According to the website Raw Story, a group of Internet activists calling themselves Operation Payback took credit for temporarily shutting down the website of PostFinance on Monday and threatened to crash PayPal, the online payment service that last week also cut off WikiLeaks, denying the organization a major tool to collect donations from supporters. "We will fire at anyone that tries to censor WikiLeaks," said Operation Payback, according to Raw Story. The angry hackers of Operation Payback may not be the ideal confederates for a whistle-blower seeking credibility, but with Assange in police custody and his website under attack, he may feel he could use all the help he can get.