Assange due in court tonight

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was scheduled to appear in a London court on Tuesday seeking to fight his extradition to Sweden in a sex-crimes investigation and trying to secure bail after being held a week in a British prison cell.

The 39-year-old Australian was held in prison custody by a judge at a hearing on December 7 after surrendering himself to Scotland Yard to answer a Swedish arrest warrant.

Assange is wanted for questioning after two women accused him of sexual misconduct in separate encounters in Sweden over the summer. Lawyers for Assange say he denies the allegations and will contest the attempt to extradite him for questioning.

He will be represented in court by Geoffrey Robertson, a former appeals judge at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone who has specialised in freedom of speech cases. Robertson's former clients include author Salman Rushdie.

Supporters were planning to protest Assange's detention outside the court, following a small rally on Monday outside Sweden's embassy in London.

Some of Assange's supporters suspect the extradition request has been motivated by WikiLeaks' decision last month to begin publishing its trove of about 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables, something Swedish officials have denied.

The disclosures, which have continued unaffected since Assange was detained in prison, have offended some US allies and angered its rivals. Officials in Washington claim some other countries have already curtailed their dealings with the US government as a result.

At an hour-long court hearing last week, lawyer Gemma Lindfield - acting for Swedish police - said Assange is accused of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion.

She told the court one woman had accused Assange of pinning her down and refusing to use a condom during an encounter on August 14 in Stockholm. That woman also accused of Assange of molesting her in a way "designed to violate her sexual integrity" several days later.

A second woman has accused Assange of having sex with her without a condom while he was a guest at her Stockholm home and she was asleep.

In Sweden, a person who has sex with an unconscious, drunk or sleeping person can be convicted of rape and sentenced to up to six years in prison.

Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, claims the courts are stacked against defendants in sex cases in Sweden.

However, a 2009 European Commission-funded study found only 10 per cent of sex offences reported in Sweden result in a conviction.

Lawyers for Assange said they will make a new application on Tuesday to have him freed on bail, and will offer to post a hefty bond with the court. Several high-profile Britons - including socialite Jemima Khan and filmmaker Ken Loach - have offered to contribute Stg20,000 each.

A decision on whether to extradite Assange is expected to take several weeks. Both Assange and the Swedish government are entitled to appeal against the ruling if the judge rules against them.

Britain's government said on Monday that the country's national security adviser believes government websites could be attacked in retribution if Assange is not released.

Government departments have been told they could be targeted by online "hacktivists," following attacks on companies including MasterCard Inc, Visa Inc and PayPal Inc, which cut ties to the WikiLeaks site.

Assange speaks out from prison

Meanwhile, Assange has issued a plea from jail for his supporters to keep fighting, accusing Visa, Mastercard and Paypal of being instruments of US foreign policy.

In a statement provided via his mother, Assange said he was determined to fight for the future of WikiLeaks.

"My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have always expressed," he said from Wandsworth Prison in London.

"These circumstances shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct."

The statements were made in answer to the question posed by Mr Duffy through his mother: "Was it all worth it?"

Julian Assange's mother Christine, who lives on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, has flown to London to visit her son and support him in his bail hearing, expected tonight (NZT).

Mrs Assange was not able to see her son face-to-face on Monday but a 10-minute phone call reunited the duo.

It was the first time the Noosa woman spoke to her son since he was arrested.

Mr Assange told his mum there were CCTV cameras monitoring his cell because of fears he could be assassinated for his role in releasing 250,000 confidential US government documents.

- AP, Sunshine Coast Daily

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