Putin leads backlash over WikiLeaks boss detention

9th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Vladimir Putin on Thursday led a growing band of international leaders voicing support for WikiLeaks' boss Julian Assange, describing his detention in Britain as "undemocratic".

The Russian prime minister's broadside came as hackers escalated their cyber war on opponents of the whistleblower website, setting their sights on Amazon.com.

"Why was Mr. Assange hidden in jail? Is that democracy? As we say in the village: the pot is calling the kettle black," Putin said in response to a question on Russia's undemocratic image in US embassy cables leaked by the website.

His comments echoed Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who expressed "solidarity" with Assange, blasting the Australian activist's arrest as a blow against "freedom of expression."

Assange has "exposed a diplomacy that had appeared unreachable," said Lula, who criticized the failure of other governments to challenge Assange's detention.

"They have arrested him and I don't hear so much as a single protest for freedom of expression," he said.

Anonymous, the loose-knit group of hackers behind the cyber attacks, announced an assault on the Amazon website for 1600 GMT as part of "Operation Payback."

The move appeared to be part of a developing tit-for-tat cyber conflict targeting companies in reprisal for withdrawing from doing business with WikiLeaks.

Amazon last week booted WikiLeaks off its servers, saying the company had violated its terms of service.

Visa, Mastercard and PayPal earlier suffered disruption to their websites in retaliation for their decision to stop accepting payments for the whistleblower, which rocked global diplomacy last week by dumping 250,000 secret US embassy cables onto its website.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, hit out at pressure being exerted on "private companies, banks and credit card companies" to cut commercial ties to WikiLeaks.

"They could be interpreted as an attempt to censor the publication of information, thus potentially violating WikiLeaks' right to freedom of expression," she told a press conference in Geneva.

Anonymous told AFP in an online chat they would attack anyone they perceive as having an "anti-WikiLeaks agenda."

The Swedish government's website was forced offline as was the Swedish proscutor's office.

Organisers told AFP they had started with only around 50 users taking part in the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that bombard websites to take them offline, but now had around 4,000.

"We recruit through the Internet, that means, everywhere: imageboards, forums, Facebook, Twitter... you name it, we're using it," they said.

Twitter and Facebook later removed accounts for the Anonymous group's "Operation Payback" campaign on the grounds that it was targeting individuals.

WikiLeaks distanced itself from the group in a statement, saying it had no affiliation with Anonymous.

WikiLeaks' Kristinn Hrafnsson said the attacks "are of a similar nature to those received, and endured" by the website over the past week.

"We neither condemn nor applaud these attacks. We believe they are a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets."

Members of Anonymous also took aim on Wednesday at the websites of US conservative standard bearer Sarah Palin and US Senator Joe Lieberman, who called for US companies to withdraw technical support for WikiLeaks.

Assange's supporters have vowed the arrest will not halt the flow of secrets, with the latest revelations causing more embarrassment for Washington.

The most explosive came in an assessment by Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who illustrated the tensions caused by China's increasing involvement in resource-rich Africa.

"China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons," Carson said in a February meeting with oil executives in Nigeria.

Other cables showed Washington put intense pressure on Berlin to not enforce arrest warrants against CIA agents involved in the 2003 abduction of a German citizen mistakenly believed to be a terrorist.

Putin, despite his defence of Assange on Thursday, has been portrayed in an embarrassing light by some of the leaked cables. In one, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called him a "behind the scenes puppeteer" dissatisfied with his role.

Others detailed allegations of high-level Russian corruption and referred to Putin as an "alpha dog".


© 2010 AFP

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