Julian Assange, the Australian founder of whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, has appealed a Swedish arrest warrant for alleged sexual crimes, the country's High Court said Wednesday, as his lawyer launched a blistering attack on Sweden's chief prosecutor.
Assange has denied the allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion, which led to the arrest warrant and the issuing of a "red notice" by Interpol, asking for information on his whereabouts.
The former computer hacker, whose current location is unknown, is at the center of a global controversy after WikiLeaks released more than 250,000 cables at the weekend, exposing the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy and including brutally candid assessments of world leaders.
In response to the red notice, his British lawyer, Mark Stephens, accused Marianne Ny, Sweden's director of public prosecution, of breaking international law and compared her to Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria.
He also said they were looking into whether the U.S. was involved in any way given "rather bellicose" statements about prosecuting Assange come from America.
"This appears to be a persecution and a prosecution,"he said in a statement sent to NBC News, adding that Assange had repeatedly offered to meet her, both when he was in Sweden and after leaving.
"Prosecutrix Ny's actions put me in mind of Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria — they certainly appear to have nothing much to do with truth or justice," Stephens said.
- DDoS attack on WikiLeaks gathers strength
- Assange's lawyer blasts his 'persecution'
- Newsweek: End of U.S. 'democracy agenda'
- State Department's best sources burned
- WikiLeaks: A tool for terrorists and criminals?
- NYT: Memos show wary nuclear dance with Pakistan
- U.S. cable: Karzai intervened for drug traffickers
- The who, what and why of WikiLeaks
- More stories, videos about the documents
He said an appeal by Assange filed on Nov. 19 had been partly successful and that the court had thrown out the rape case because "the facts did not sustain the charge."
"Since the rape charge has been dropped, the current allegation he faces does not — as a matter of Swedish law — justify an arrest warrant for Mr. Assange," the statement said. "The sole ground for the warrant is the Prosecutor's blatantly false allegation that he is on the run from justice: he left Sweden lawfully and has offered himself for questioning."
He noted the Interpol red notice came "just two days after the WikiLeaks first release of U.S. diplomatic cables."Video: WikiLeaks increases urgency over nukes (on this page)
"We are ... investigating whether the Prosecutor's application to have Mr. Assange held incommunicado without access to lawyers, visitors or other prisoners — again a unique request — is in any way linked to this matter and the recent, rather bellicose U.S. statements of an intention to prosecute Mr. Assange," he added.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, in a Facebook message, questioned why the U.S. had not hunted hunt Assange with "the same urgency" as it pursues al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, while Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said Assange should be prosecuted for terrorism.
According to a report in the Florida Independent, Mike Huckabee, a former Republican governor of Arkansas who has been touted as a 2012 presidential candidate, has called for the person who gave the information to WikiLeaks to be tried for treason and executed.
Assange's appeal against the Swedish arrest order was lodged with the High Court Tuesday by his Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig.
"Julian Assange demands that the High Court, after issuing a leave to appeal, changes the appeal court's decision and immediately overturns the decision to detain Julian Assange," the document said.
The Interpol red notice, which was issued Tuesday, allows arrest warrants issued by national authorities to be circulated to other countries.
Interpol's website said anyone with information on Assange, 39, should contact their national or local police.
A Swedish court ordered Assange's detention on Nov. 18 as a result of an investigation begun in September by the prosecutor's office into allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.
Assange has called the allegations baseless and criticized what he has called a legal circus in Sweden, where he had been seeking to build a base in order to benefit from its strict journalist protection laws.
In October, WikiLeaks released nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war, which Assange said showed 15,000 more Iraqi civilian deaths had occurred than thought.
Experts say U.S. authorities could face insurmountable legal hurdles if they try to bring criminal charges against Assange over the leaked documents and cables.
Assange's mother 'distressed'
Assange's mother, Christine Assange, who runs a puppet theatre in Australia's Queensland state, said she was worried about her son's wellbeing
"He's my son and I love him and obviously I don't want him hunted down and jailed. I'm reacting as any mother would. I'm distressed," she told Australian radio. "A lot of stuff that's written about me and Julian is untrue."
She spoke as Australia's government joined the United States in launching an investigation into whether Assange and WikiLeaks had broken security or criminal laws.Story: WikiLeaks: Blackwater anti-piracy plan worried U.S.
The most recent secret memos published by WikiLeaks contain frank details on several leaders attending the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting.
One note allegedly written by a U.S. diplomat in Kazakhstan details scenes of hard-drinking hedonism by several senior Kazakh ministers. The same report describes Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as horse-obsessed and given to taking refuge from the often-frigid capital at a holiday home in the United Arab Emirates.
Other prospective conference delegates to be described less than flatteringly in the leaked cables include Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev .
On Tuesday, once-secret U.S. diplomatic memos revealed 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.
Britain's Guardian newspaper has published many of the revelations on its website.
Other classified U.S. memos described French President Nicolas Sarkozy as having a "thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style," the Guardian said.Video: Assange makes Interpol's most wanted list (on this page)
One document sent to Barack Obama in March 2009 said Sarkozy can be "brilliant, impatient, undiplomatic, hard to predict, charming, innovative, and summit-prone."
It also emerged that Bank of England's Governor Mervyn King had criticized U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and finance minister George Osborne as "unprepared," the Guardian reported, shortly before they were elected to power.
King, in a February meeting with the U.S. ambassador, said the then-opposition Conservative party leaders had demonstrated a "lack of depth."
A copy of the U.S. cable showed that King, in several meetings with the Conservative leaders before their election in May, had pressed for details about how they planned to tackle Britain's debt, but "received generalities in return."
The Associated Press, Reuters, NBC News and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.