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Lawyers behind Assange

Lawyers behind Assange

A host of well known Australian and international lawyers have thrown their support behind Julian Assange in the wake of his arrest overnight.The Australian founder of Wikileaks voluntarily…

A host of well known Australian and international lawyers have thrown their support behind Julian Assange in the wake of his arrest overnight.

The Australian founder of Wikileaks voluntarily surrendered to UK police last night after he was placed on an Interpol red alert by Swedish authorities who are seeking to extradite him to face charges of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

Despite high profile supporters such as the Australian filmmaker John Pilger and British socialite Jemima Khan, the former wife of Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan, offering to stump up bail for Assange, Judge Howard Riddle of the Westminster Magistrates Court in London rejected his application for bail.

Assange was remanded in custody on the grounds that he provided a high flight risk.

The news of Assange's arrest prompted the well known Australian born barrister and human rights advocate, Geoffrey Robertson QC, to cut short his holiday in Sydney and fly to London to represent him.

London lawyer Mark Stephens accompanied Assange during his London court appearance.

Prior to Assange's arrest, a host of Australian lawyers had expressed disquiet about both the Swedish allegations against him and comments by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland in relation to the publication of confidential diplomatic cables on Wikileaks.

Melbourne barrister James Catlin, who has previously represented Assange, told ABC radio last night that the Swedish allegations against Assange are "not even in the ballpark" of what would be considered to be definitions of rape in most jurisdictions.

"It's consensual sex and the two women involved SMS-ed their friends afterwards to talk favourably about what has occurred which in any normal first world country would give prosecutors grave cause for concern about the bona fides of the complaint," he said.

Yesterday (7 December) the head of Maurice Blackburn's Social Justice Practice group, Elizabeth O'Shea, and Melbourne writer and academic Jeff Sparrow co-authored a letter to Julia Gillard urging the Australian government to protect the legal and human rights of Assange.

The letter included 185 signatories, including American academic and author Noam Chomsky, philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer, and lawyers Julian Burnside QC, Brian Walters SC, Stephen Keim SC, Rob Stary and David Ritter.

"We are really worried by the threats of violence being made against Mr Assange," Elizabeth O'Shea told Lawyers Weekly.

The prominent US politician and former Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has commented that Assange should face the death penalty for leaking information about the US government.

O'Shea said the Australian government should provide Assange with the consular assistance expected of any Australian citizen and declared that the establishment of a taskforce by the Attorney-General in a bid to charge Assange was "premature". She also called for the Australia government to pull back from making allegations that Assange had engaged in criminal allegations and to refrain from cancelling Assange's passport.

Last week, Greg Barns, a director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, told Lawyers Weekly that it would "be a stretch" to charge Assange for alleged breaches in terms of possible charges under anti-terrorism laws and the National Security Information Act.

"The fact that any government would be embarrassed by the publication of information doesn't make it an offence to publish it," he said.

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