Assange hunt appears to have 'political motivations': lawyer

5th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The pursuit of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange appears to have "political motivations", his lawyer said Sunday, as the elusive boss of the whistle-blowing website is wanted on sex assault allegations.

New diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks meanwhile revealed that US diplomats in Beijing linked China's top propagandist to cyber attacks that prompted Google to take down its search engine in China early this year.

And as the website faced a fight for survival, it urged the public Sunday to set up mirror sites.

Speaking to BBC television, Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens said the hunt for the WikiLeaks boss appeared political.

"I'm really rather worried by the political motivations that appear to be behind this," he told the British broadcaster.

Swedish prosecutors have issued an international arrest warrant for Assange over allegations of rape, charges he has denied and has hinted could be part of a "smear campaign".

The 39-year-old Australian is believed to be in Britain, and a report said he could be arrested this week.

Stephens told the BBC there was a risk that Swedish authorities could hand Assange over to their counterparts in the United States, where anger has built over the leaked diplomatic cables.

"Certainly in my mind it's very open about that" possibility, Stephens said, adding that he may "certainly" fight the Swedish arrest warrant on that basis.

Assange broke cover on Friday to say in an online chat that he had boosted security after receiving death threats amid the storm that was unleashed by his site's decision to publish about 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

Since November 28, WikiLeaks has published the first of the cables, creating an international firestorm as American diplomats' private assessments of foreign leaders and politics has been publicly aired.

The release marked the third major publication of secret US files by WikiLeaks this year, after the site had published tens of thousands of American military files from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

The United States and other governments said the release of the documents broke their laws.

One of the latest leaked cables spoke of Google's decision to take down its search engine in China.

"A well-placed contact claims that the Chinese government coordinated the recent intrusions of Google systems," a cable dated earlier this year said.

"According to our contact, the closely held operations were directed at the Politburo Standing Committee level," the cable said, referring to the ruling body of the Chinese Communist Party.

WikiLeaks meanwhile faces a new threat to its survival after the online payment service PayPal cut off the account used for donations to the website.

It has already been forced to switch its domain to Switzerland because its original web address was shut down by a US provider.

In a message posted Sunday on the Internet, WikiLeaks noted that it "is currently under heavy attack" and called on the public to set up mirror sites "to make it impossible to ever fully remove" it.

Elsewhere, the Swiss Post Office said it was carrying out checks on Assange's account with its banking arm, after doubts emerged over the Swiss address he gave.

© 2010 AFP

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