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UK judge upholds arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder

February 13, 2018

LONDON (AP) — A judge upheld a British arrest warrant for Julian Assange on Tuesday, saying the WikiLeaks founder should have the courage to come to court and face justice after more than five years inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot rejected arguments by Assange’s lawyers that it is no longer in the public interest to arrest him for jumping bail in 2012 and seeking shelter in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden. Prosecutors there were investigating allegations of sexual assault and rape made by two women, which Assange has denied.

Arbuthnot did not mince words in her ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, saying that by jumping bail Assange had made “a determined attempt to avoid the order of the court.” She said Assange appeared to be “a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice.”

“He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favor,” the judge said, drawing exclamations of dismay from Assange supporters in the public gallery.

Assange can seek to appeal, though his lawyers did not immediately say whether he would. Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation last year, saying there was no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden in the foreseeable future. But the British warrant for violating bail conditions still stands, and Assange faces arrest if he leaves the embassy.

Assange’s lawyers had asked for the U.K warrant to be withdrawn since Sweden no longer wants him extradited, but the judge rejected their request last week. Assange’s attorney had gone on to argue that arresting him is no longer proportionate or in the public interest. Lawyer Mark Summers argued the Australian was justified in seeking refuge in the embassy because he has a legitimate fear that U.S. authorities want to arrest him for WikiLeaks’ publication of secret documents.

“I do not find that Mr. Assange’s fears were reasonable,” the judge said. “If the United States initiates extradition proceedings, Mr. Assange would have the ability to raise any bars to the extradition and challenge the proceedings” in a British court, she said.

Arbuthnot dismissed another plank of Assange’s case — a report from a U.N. working group which said the 46-year-old was being arbitrarily detained. “I give little weight to the views of the working group,” the judge said, noting that Assange had “restricted his own freedom for a number of years.”

Assange’s lawyer had argued that the 5½ years Assange has spent inside the embassy were “adequate, if not severe” punishment for his actions, noting that he had health problems including a frozen shoulder and depression.

The judge accepted that Assange had depression and other conditions, but said he was overall in “fairly good physical health.” Arbuthnot also rejected an argument that Assange’s actions had not stalled Sweden’s legal case, because he had offered to be interviewed by Swedish prosecutors at the embassy.

Assange’s legal team said emails recently released after a freedom of information request showed that a British state prosecutor had advised Sweden “that it would not be prudent for Sweden to try to interview Mr. Assange in the U.K.”

The judge said she could not tell from the emails she had seen whether the lawyer who sent them had behaved inappropriately. But she said Assange’s “failure to surrender has impeded the course of justice.”

“Defendants on bail up and down the country, and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices,” she said. “He should have the courage to do so too.”

The ruling leaves the long legal impasse intact. Apart from the bail-jumping charge — for which the maximum sentence is one year in prison — Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. grand jury indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents, and that American authorities will seek his extradition.

Assange’s lawyers say he is willing to face legal proceedings in Britain, but only if he receives a guarantee that he will not be sent to the U.S. to face prosecution. That is not an assurance Britain is likely to give.

Outside the courtroom, Assange lawyer Gareth Peirce gave little indication of what might come next in the twisting legal saga. “The history of the case from start to finish is extraordinary,” she said. “Each aspect of it becomes puzzling and troubling as it is scrutinized.”

Danica Kirka in London contributed to this story.


Ecuador grants nationality to WikiLeaks founder

January 11, 2018

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador has granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after more than five years of living in asylum at the nation’s embassy in London, officials announced Thursday.

Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said officials accepted Assange’s request for naturalization in December, and they continue to look for a long-term resolution to a situation that has vexed officials since 2012.

“What naturalization does is provide the asylum seeker another layer of protection,” Espinosa said. Ecuador gave Assange asylum after he sought refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for investigation of sex-related claims. Sweden dropped the case, but Assange has remained in the embassy because he is still subject to arrest in Britain for jumping bail.

He also fears a possible U.S. extradition request based on his leaking of classified State Department documents. The Australian-born Assange posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow Ecuadorean national soccer team jersey on Instagram Wednesday and his name now appears in the Andean country’s national registry.

The new citizenship status, however, appears to change little for Assange in the immediate future. He would still need to alert British authorities of any movement outside the embassy. “Even if he has two or three nationalities, the United Kingdom will continue in its efforts against him,” said Fredy Rivera, an expert in foreign affairs at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Ecuador.

Espinosa said Ecuador is trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, including special legal immunity and safe passage.

Britain’s Foreign Office said earlier Thursday it has rejected Ecuador’s request to grant him diplomatic status in the U.K. “Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” the office said.

Though protected by Ecuador, the relationship between Assange and nation’s leaders has at times been dicey. Ecuador has repeatedly urged Assange not to interfere in the affairs of other countries following his frequent online comments on international issues.

The biggest crisis came in October 2016, when the embassy cut his internet service after WikiLeaks published a trove of emails from then-U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He was also a point of contention in Ecuador’s 2017 presidential election. Conservative candidate Guillermo Lasso pledged to evict the Australian within 30 days of taking office, while current President Lenin Moreno said he would allow him to stay. Assange later taunted after Lasso’s loss that he would “cordially invite Lasso to leave Ecuador within 30 days.”

Moreno issued a warning reminding Assange not to meddle in politics. He has also called Assange a hacker.

Israel pushes NBA to delete ‘Occupied Palestine’ from website

December 30, 2017

America’s National Basketball Association has removed reference to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” from its new website following complaints from Israeli ministers, it was reported on Friday. The name appeared on a list of countries which enables fans to vote for their favorite players for the 2018 All-Star Game.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that politics should not be mixed with sport. She claimed that referring to land “connected with the Jewish nation for thousands of years” as “occupied” is a mistake.

Her cabinet colleague, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, sent a letter to the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calling on him to remove “Occupied Palestinian Territories” from the list. “I was surprised to discover that on the official website of the NBA… the state of ‘Palestine — Occupied Territory’ was listed as one of the many countries to which basketball fans belong,” she wrote. “Palestine is a country everyone knows doesn’t exist. I view the inclusion of ‘Occupied Palestine’ … as legitimizing the division of the State of Israel and as gross and blatant interference, in contrast to the official position of the American administration.”

Silver explained that the NBA does not produce the country listings for the website. “As soon as we became aware of it, the site was updated. We apologize for this oversight, and have corrected it.”

Commentators have pointed out that the site was not incorrect in the first place. The State of Palestine is recognized by the UN, and its territories are designated as occupied in international law, including East Jerusalem. “This is yet another example of Israeli officials twisting reality to justify their brutal military occupation,” said MEMO’s senior editor Ibrahim Hewitt. “Their arrogance is breathtaking.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.



Saudi Arabia sets up new authority for cyber security


KHOBAR – Saudi Arabia has set up a new authority for cyber security and named its minister of state Musaed al-Aiban its chairman, strengthening security in the world’s largest oil exporter, a royal decree said.

The National Authority for Cyber Security will be made up of the head of state security, the head of intelligence, the deputy interior minister and assistant to the minister of defense, SPA said late on Tuesday.

The authority will be linked to the King and is created to “boost cyber security of the state, protect its vital interests, national security and sensitive infrastructure,” it said.

It will also improve protection of networks, information technology systems and data.

Saudi Arabia has been target of frequent cyber attacks.

Earlier this year, it put out an alert about the Shamoon virus, which cripples computers by wiping their disks after the labor ministry had been attacked and a chemicals firm reported a network disruption.

The worst cyber attack to date was when Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company was hit by the Shamoon virus in 2012.

Source: Middle East Online.



Aleppo girl Bana Alabed named among Time’s most influential people on internet

June 27, 2017

An eight-year-old Syrian girl who drew global attention with her Twitter updates from the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo was named one of the most influential people on the internet by Time Magazine.

Other people on this year’s list included British author J.K. Rowling, pop singer Rihanna, celebrity Kim Kardashian, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Time makes its annual choice based on those with global influence on social media and in generating news headlines.

Helped by her mother Fatemah, who manages the @AlabedBana Twitter account, Bana Alabed uploaded pictures and videos of life amidst the Syrian war, gaining around 365,000 followers on the micro-blogging site since last September.

“I can’t go out because of the bombing please stop bombing us,” Bana wrote when she first joined Twitter on Sept. 24, 2016.

“Aleppo is very good city but we need peace. I want to live like a child but instead I am stressed now,” she wrote.

Last December, Bana, who was seven at the time, and her family were evacuated safely from the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo to Turkey, where they were greeted by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at his palace.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when Bashar Assad’s regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests, which erupted as part of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Since then, more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million have been displaced, 6.3 million internally and 5.1 million externally, across the war-battered country, according to the U.N.

Turkey, hosting more than 3 million Syrian refugees, which accounts for around 45 percent of all Syrian refugees in the region, has spent around $25 billion helping and sheltering refugees during that time.

Source: Daily Sabah.



Turkish court formally blocks access to Wikipedia

April 29, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — In a move that social media users called censorship, a Turkish court on Saturday blocked access to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, enforcing an earlier restriction by Turkey’s telecommunications watchdog.

The Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) said an Ankara court ordered Saturday that a “protection measure” related to suspected internet crimes be applied to Wikipedia. Such measures are used to block access to pages or entire websites to protect “national security and public order.”

In response, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales tweeted his support for those who labeled the decision censorship: “Access to information is a fundamental human right. Turkish people I will always stand with you to fight for this right.”

Turkey Blocks, an internet censorship monitor, said users in Turkey have been unable to access all language editions of Wikipedia since 8 a.m. Saturday. “The loss of availability is consistent with internet filters used to censor content in the country,” the monitor said.

The site had initially been blocked by BTK under a provisional administration measure. The exact reason for the ban remains unclear. But Turkey’s official news agency, quoting the Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications, said Saturday the site was blocked for “becoming an information source acting with groups conducting a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.”

The state-run Anadolu Agency said officials had warned Wikipedia to remove content likening Turkey to terror groups but the site “persistently” did not. Turkey had demanded that Wikipedia open an office in the country, act in line with international law and abide by court decisions and not be part of “blackout operation against Turkey,” according to the agency.

Anadolu said if these demands are met and the content removed, the site would be reopened. Opposition lawmakers also criticized the court order. Republican People’s Party parliamentarians Eren Erdem tweeted the ban puts “Turkey in line with North Korea” while Baris Yarkadas called it “censorship and a violation of the right to access information.”

Turkey’s status is listed as “not free” on the 2016 Freedom on the Net index by independent rights watchdog Freedom House. It says over 111,000 websites were blocked as of May last year. Wikipedia, a collaborative online reference work, says it is ranked among the 10 most popular websites.


Sweden drops case but WikiLeaks’ Assange is not in the clear

May 19, 2017

LONDON (AP) — Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange, almost seven years after it began and five years after the WikiLeaks founder sought refuge inside Ecuador’s London embassy.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer Per E. Samuelson declared Friday that “this is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants.” But the picture is more complicated than that.


No. The investigation began after two women accused Assange of sexual offenses during a 2010 visit to Stockholm — allegations he denies. Sweden asked Britain to extradite Assange for questioning, and in June 2012 he sought refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid arrest.

After that, the investigation stalled. Swedish prosecutors dropped cases of alleged sexual misconduct when the statute of limitations ran out in 2015, leaving only the rape allegation. Marianne Ny, the Swedish director of public prosecutions announced Friday that she was dropping the rape case because there is no prospect of bringing Assange to Sweden “in the foreseeable future” and it is “no longer proportionate” to maintain the European arrest warrant.

She told a news conference in Stockholm that the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations lapses in 2020. Ny said the case was not being dropped because Assange has been found innocent.

“We don’t make any statement of guilty or not,” she said.


Sweden has revoked a European Arrest Warrant for Assange, so British police are no longer seeking him for extradition. But there is also a warrant issued by a British court after he skipped bail in June 2012.

London’s Metropolitan Police force says that it “is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.” The maximum sentence for that offense is a year in prison.

Assange said Friday that “my legal staff have contacted the U.K. authorities and we hope to engage in a dialogue about what is the best way forward.”

Ecuador, which has granted Assange asylum, says it will step up diplomatic efforts to gain him safe passage to the Latin American country.


That’s unclear. Assange suspects there is a secret U.S. indictment against him for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked classified American documents, which has infuriated U.S. officials. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month that Assange’s arrest is a priority.

Both U.S. and British officials have declined to comment on whether there is a warrant for Assange’s arrest.

Assange told reporters Friday he would be happy to discuss his case with the U.S. Department of Justice.


Some legal experts say it makes his position less secure. Until Friday, Britain was bound to honor Sweden’s extradition request before any warrant from the United States. That is no longer the case.

Lawyer David Allen Green, who has followed the case, tweeted: “Once outside embassy, Assange more at risk from any U.S. extradition attempt than if he had gone to Sweden.”

Assange could fight any U.S. extradition request in the British courts, a process that could take years.


WikiLeaks’ release of classified material has continued unabated during Assange’s five years in the Ecuadorean embassy. On Friday, the group released what it said were new details of CIA cyberespionage tools.


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