Interpol issues global wanted notice for WikiLeaks' Assange
The global police agency Interpol said Wednesday it had issued a global wanted notice for WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange on suspicion of rape, on the basis of a Swedish arrest warrant.
"There is a public 'Red Notice' on behalf of Sweden," a spokeswoman told AFP, confirming that Interpol had posted Sweden's request for assistance in tracking down the 39-year-old Australian on its website.
Sweden's International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg issued an arrest warrant for the secretive activist on November 18, citing "probable cause of suspected rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion."
Interpol said its 188 member states had been "made aware of Assange's 'Red Notice' status, which is a request for any country to identify or locate an individual with a view to their provisional arrest and extradition.
"Many of Interpol's member countries consider a Red Notice a valid request for provisional arrest, especially if they are linked to the requesting country via a bilateral extradition treaty," it added.
Assange, whose current location is unclear, contested the warrant in a Swedish appeals court, but his first bid to get it thrown out was rejected last week and he has lodged a second appeal.
In the meantime, he could face arrest and extradition to Sweden from anywhere in the world where local authorities decide to act on the warrant.
Some of Assange's supporters have accused unnamed forces of framing him for the alleged sexual assaults on two Swedish women in Sweden in August, in order to undermine his campaign to publicise secret documents.
The elusive activist's lawyers have not taken this tack, however, arguing instead that the prosecutor should not need to arrest him simply to question him, as he had proposed several dates and times for questioning.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks' crusade has continued, with this week's dump of the first of around a quarter of a million secret US State Department cables online and a barrage of leaks in world newspapers.
The release of the documents, mainly internal US diplomatic telegrammes, has proved highly embarrassing for the United States and some of its allies, with surprise revelations and indiscreet asides about world events.
Assange gave an interview to Time magazine on Tuesday from an undisclosed location through the Skype Internet phone service. Although Australian, he is thought to live mainly in Europe, and has been seen recently in Britain.
In Australia, Assange's mother, Christine Assange, said she was "as any mother would be, very distressed" that authorities were looking for her son, the state-run Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
"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 said.
Many countries around the world, including the United States, have denounced the theft and exposure of the cables as a criminal act that undermines global stability and diplomatic practice.
US prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into the leaks but one country -- leftist Ecuador -- briefly appeared to offer Assange asylum, before withdrawing the offer a day after is was made.
© 2010 AFP