Assange's failed appeal adds to WikiLeaks' woes

2nd November 2011, Comments 0 comments

With his extradition to Sweden now likely and his anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks facing financial ruin, Julian Assange has suffered a dramatic fall from grace in a little over a year.

The ruling Wednesday by the High Court in London that Assange can be sent to Sweden to face questioning over rape and sexual assault claims is just the latest blow for the Australian former computer hacker.

It came just over a week after the 40-year-old admitted that WikiLeaks had been forced to suspend publishing classified files after credit card companies blocked funding, and may have no option but to shut by the end of the year.

The picture is remarkably different to the one just over a year ago, when WikiLeaks was riding high following its first major releases of classified US documents that captured worldwide attention.

Eccentric and lanky with a shock of platinum white hair, Assange eagerly took up the role of WikiLeaks frontman, telling AFP in an interview in August 2010: "We are creating a new standard for free press."

But it was in the same month that his problems began, when Swedish authorities issued a warrant for his arrest over the claims of sexual assault stemming from encounters with two women.

He was then arrested in December in London and has been fighting extradition ever since.

And while extradition to Sweden is not inevitable, in order to take the final route of appeal to England's Supreme Court his lawyers will have to convince judges that the case is of special public interest.

His mother Christine Assange said Wednesday he was "even closer to a US extradition or rendition," echoing her son's fears that the Sweden case is a first step to extradition to the US.

With his attention on the legal battle, it may be hard for Assange to salvage WikiLeaks, whose funding has plunged 95 percent due to what the website's founder described as an "arbitrary and unlawful financial blockade."

Born in Townsville, northeastern Australia, Assange says he spent his early childhood living on and off on the nearby Magnetic Island with his mother.

Assange has described his childhood as nomadic, saying in all he attended 37 different schools.

In one memorable incident he described getting into trouble after hitting a girl over the head with a hammer at primary school -- adding that she was unharmed.

Living in Melbourne in the 1990s, the teenage Assange discovered a new talent: computer hacking.

But his new interest did not go undetected and he was charged with 30 counts of computer crime, including allegedly hacking police and US military computers.

He admitted most of the charges and walked away with a fine.

When he was 18 his son Daniel was born. The identity of his mother is not known but Assange has reportedly blamed the ensuing custody battle for turning his hair white.

After his brush with the law, Assange says he worked in a number of different fields, as a security consultant, a researcher in journalism and started his own IT company.

He says he founded WikiLeaks in 2006 with around 10 others from the human rights, media and technology fields.

The site went online in 2007 and began leaking secret documents well before its master stroke of releasing some 77,000 secret US files on Afghanistan in July last year.

That first mega-leak was followed in October, 2010, by the release of some 400,000 so-called "Iraq war logs" and on November 28, it began the slow release of around 250,000 diplomatic cables from 274 US embassies.

That too ran into trouble as Assange fell out spectacularly with a string of "partner" media organisations in the release, including the New York Times in the United States and The Guardian in Britain.

Assange until his arrest seemed to lead a life out of a spy novel: constantly on the move, bouncing from capital to capital and staying with supporters and friends of friends, frequently switching his phone number.

For an anti-secrecy champion he is notoriously secretive about his own private life, and he had tried to block the publication of a memoir in September despite having sat for more than 50 hours of interviews with a ghost writer.

© 2011 AFP

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