London, United Kingdom (AHN) – International protest is building about the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange this week. Assange is being held in a British jail awaiting extradition to Sweden on rape charges.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department is seeking to extradite him to the United States to face espionage charges after his Web site released more than 250,000 documents that exposed secret State Department communications. However, political leaders in Australia, Brazil, Russia and elsewhere say Assange is a political prisoner who is being punished for exercising rights of the free press.
Some of the harshest criticism is coming from Australia, where hundreds of people rallied Thursday in three cities to protest Assange’s arrest. Assange is an Australian citizen.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Assange was merely doing the job of any journalist by publishing the documents. “The blame for any violations of the law should fall on the persons who gave the documents to Wikileaks,” Rudd said. “The Americans are responsible for that.”
The State Department communications, called “cables,” described Rudd as a “control freak” and said that he made mistakes as Australia’s foreign minister.
Rudd said he was unconcerned about the criticisms.
He also said Australia would offer consular help to Assange.
Consular help refers to sending diplomats to meet with a citizen of their own country who is arrested abroad to determine whether legal assistance can be arranged.
In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva described the arrest of Assange as a crime.
“I want to express my protest against this offense against free expression,” Lula said. “I will use the presidential blog to express my protest.”
He also encouraged the international news media to be more vigorous in defending Assange.
“The young man who is giving so much trouble to the diplomacy of the United States was arrested and so far I have not seen any protest defending free expression,” Lula said.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the U.S. government’s efforts to prosecute Assange as hypocritical.
“If it is full democracy, then why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison,” Putin said during a press conference Thursday. “That’s what, democracy?”
Putin’s remarks appear to be a response to a February 2010 cable from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that said, “Russian democracy has disappeared and the government is an oligarchy run by the security services.”
In Mexico, the Journalists Club put up a plaque in their Mexico City headquarters honoring Assange for his “contribution to the conscience of mankind.”
The State Department documents published by Wikileaks described Mexico’s difficulties in managing its war with drug cartels. The cables described the government’s efforts as ineffective, often corrupt and divided among competing administrators.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service is saying any U.S. prosecution of Assange would face unprecedented legal and diplomatic challenges.
A 24-page report from the government agency examines how the Justice Department could apply U.S. criminal laws to a foreign news operation.
“We are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it,” the report said.
The prosecution of Assange creates First Amendment and diplomatic hurdles “based on concerns about government censorship,” the report said.
Some members of Congress, such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I.-Conn) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), say Assange should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917.
However, the Congressional Research Service report said no single law forbids the news media from publishing diplomatic cables only a “patchwork” of statutes that leave unclear answers.
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