Image: Julian Assange
Lennart Preiss  /  AP
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is reportedly in the United Kingdom, is wanted in Sweden in connection with rape allegations.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 6/28/2013 7:54:07 PM ET 2013-06-28T23:54:07

A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday condemned calls for his assassination as "absolutely outrageous and indeed illegal" and claimed remarks by Sarah Palin may prevent him from getting a fair trial in the United States.

Jennifer Robinson, of London law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, spoke out as pressure mounted on the whistle-blowing organization and Assange himself.

The U.S. authorities chased WikiLeaks from an American commercial computer network, Amazon.com, and temporarily stopped the leak of embarrassing diplomatic documents, apparently aided by freelance computer hackers.

But within hours the website was back online, publishing from a fortified bunker in Sweden.

The virtual chase was mirrored by a real-life pursuit as a Swedish court refused to allow him to appeal against an arrest warrant.

In a statement given to NBC News, the Swedish Prosecution Office said Assange had been "detained in his absence, charged with rape, sexual molestation and illegal coercion."

Undeterred by this and American attempts to silence WikiLeaks, the 39-year-old Australian continued releasing confidential government documents.

Some showed how the Obama administration and Congress helped persuade Spain not to pursue charges against members of George W. Bush's administration for allowing torture of terrorism suspects.

Meantime, criticism of Assange has mounted. Republican Rep. Peter King of New York called for Assange to be charged under the Espionage Act and asked whether WikiLeaks can be designated a terrorist organization.

Tom Flanagan, a former aide to the Canadian prime minister, has called for Assange's assassination, while former Alaska governor Palin said he was an "anti-American operative with blood on his hands" in a Facebook message Monday.

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Mike Huckabee, like Palin a potential Republican presidential candidate, also said the person who leaked the information to Assange should be tried for treason and executed.

Prosecute over assassination calls
Speaking Thursday to Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now" program, Robinson said Assange was in the U.K. but said she could not confirm his "exact whereabouts" because of fears for his safety.

"These calls for his assassination are absolutely outrageous and indeed illegal. I think that the prosecuting authorities ought to consider prosecuting these individuals for incitement to violence," Robinson told the radio station. "Obviously, assassination is illegal, and we take these concerns very seriously."

She said reports he was trying to evade arrest were "absolutely inaccurate."

"One can imagine that when you have very public officials making these sorts of very serious calls for assassination that one would be concerned for their personal safety," Robinson told the Pacifica. "I also think that it raises genuine concerns when you have Sarah Palin making such allegations, for the prospect of my client receiving any sort of due process in the US."

She added they would be seeking advice from U.S. lawyers about the U.S. Espionage Act, saying a possible prosecution there was "of grave concern."

"In our view, WikiLeaks ought to be entitled to First Amendment protections for free speech. And any prosecution under the Espionage Act would call into question these protections," Robinson said.

Robinson also denied that Assange is in hiding. She said he continues to offer his cooperation to the Swedish authorities investigating the sexual assault allegations. "I must, I'm sorry, correct you that he's not in hiding evading any Interpol arrest warrant. He has genuine concerns for his personal safety as a result of numerous very public calls for his assassination. And he's obviously very busy with the WikiLeaks current works and the attacks on their systems. So any suggestion that he is evading Interpol arrest warrants is incorrect."

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said late Wednesday that the organization was trying to keep Assange's location a secret for security reasons. He noted that commentators in the United States and Canada have called for Assange to be hunted down or killed.

In her Facebook message, Palin said Assange was not a journalist "any more than the 'editor' of al-Qaida’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a 'journalist.'"

"His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaida and Taliban leaders?" Palin said.

She also questioned why WikiLeaks staff shouldn't have their assets frozen "just as we do to individuals who provide material support for terrorist organizations?" and why "cyber tools" had not been used to disable WikiLeaks permanently.

U.K. asks Sweden for more details
Also Thursday, Sweden's highest court announced it had refused permission to Assange to appeal against the arrest order.

Assange has denied the allegations, which were made earlier this year after he visited the Nordic state. His lawyer lodged an appeal against the arrest order at the High Court this week but the court has now refused to consider the case.

"The High Court has not granted a leave to appeal, so the Svea Court of Appeals ruling still stands," High Court official Kerstin Norman told Reuters.

Noting the court's decision not to allow him to appeal, the Swedish Prosecution Office said in a statement that British police had asked for more information about the case regarding "the penalties for the other crimes, in addition to rape, that Julian Assange was arrested for."

"This information will be supplied immediately. The previous arrest warrant stands," the statement added.

Swedish Prosecution Office spokeswoman Helena Ekstrand also said the office had not received any information as to the location of Assange. "So the situation now is that the arrest warrant still stands and we are looking for Julian Assange," she said.

Video: Assange makes Interpol's most wanted list (on this page)

Mark Stephens, from the same law firm as Robinson, earlier complained Assange had yet to receive formal notice of the allegations he faces — something Stephens described as a legal requirement under European law. The lawyer added that Assange had repeatedly offered to answer questions about the investigation, to no avail.

The exact nature of the allegations facing Assange weren't completely clear.

Stephens has in the past described them as part of "a post-facto dispute over consensual, but unprotected sex." Even Swedish prosecutors have disagreed about whether to label the most serious charge as rape.

Formal charges have not been filed, but the arrest order was issued Nov. 18 at the request of Marianne Ny, Sweden's Director of Public Prosecution.

Pressure on Amazon
Amazon's move to evict WikiLeaks from its servers came after congressional staff called the company to inquire about its relationship with WikiLeaks, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, said Wednesday.

"The company's decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material," Lieberman said in a statement. He added that he would have further questions for Amazon about its dealings with WikiLeaks.

The White House said it was taking new steps to protect government secrets after WikiLeaks released thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables. Officials said national security adviser Tom Donilon had appointed a senior aide to identify and develop changes needed in light of the document dump.

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called WikiLeaks' publication of classified documents "an illegal thing to do" on Thursday.

But Gillard did not indicate Australia was about to take legal action against Australian-born Assange.

The country's attorney general reiterated that authorities were investigating whether Assange has broken any Australian laws, but have not yet reached a conclusion.

The Associated Press, Reuters and NBC News contributed to this report.

Video: Attorney: Assange rape case ‘personal, not political’

  1. Closed captioning of: Attorney: Assange rape case ‘personal, not political’

    >>> good evening. there are now people looking for him all over the world. julian assange, the man behind wikileaks is wanted by the police agency interpol and reviled by many. last night, the internet rumor was that he was spotted in a bar here in new york with a newly shaved head. today, we were told otherwise. he's wanted for questioning not yet in connection with the leaks. he's wanted in sweden on allegations of sexual molestation and rape. tonight, we've spoken exclusively with the attorney for the two women in the case. our senior investigative correspondent lisa myers is here in new york with the story. good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, the lawyer for the women is emphatic that these allegations have nothing to do with politics, wikileaks , or the u.s. government . he argues that it's in everyone's interest for assange to be arrested and returned to sweden for questioning. assange's lawyer confirmed that the founder of wikileaks is still in britain.

    >> he's not in hiding, evading any interpol arrest warrant . he has genuine concerns for his personal safety as a result of numerous, very public calls for his assassinations.

    >> reporter: today, sweden 's highest court confirmed the court order seeking his arrest for questioning. but british police say they need more information about the allegations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women , wikileaks volunteers. in stockholm, the swedish prosecutor told nbc 's peter alexander that this case is being handled just like any other. that there was no pressure.

    >> there have been no conflicts whatsoever from the other countries or authorities.

    >> reporter: in an interview with nbc news, the lawyer for the two women also rejected assange's claim that all this is dirty tricks .

    >> that is nonsense. i can tell you that.

    >> reporter: nonsense?

    >> it's nonsense, yes.

    >> reporter: he says the allegations stem from two separate incidents in august. days apart, involving young women who didn't know each other at the time.

    >> these women are alleging that mr. assange forced them to do something against their will.

    >> yes. that is so.

    >> reporter: mr. assange insists whatever happened was consensual.

    >> i'm not surprised that is his standpoint, of course. and that is why it has to be interrogated.

    >> reporter: assange's lawyer says he's tried to cooperate with prosecutors.

    >> obviously, he vehemently denies the allegations.

    >> reporter: this case is a very personal one, about assange's treatment of two women .

    >> they have been abused, they've gone to the police in the same way as unfortunately thousands of women do every year.

    >> reporter: and nothing political about it?

    >> no. i understand that this is in the interest of julian assange to say that this is a conspiracy and so on. but it is not.

    >> reporter: he would not discuss details of the incident, saying he didn't want to jeopardize the investigation and predicts assange will ultimately be arrested and returned for questioning. nbc news has requested an interview with mr.

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