What a night for WikiLeaks, with founder Julian Assange arrested for Swedish sexual assault charges in Britain, an op-ed by Julian Assange on why his work is so crucial and startling new cables made public about how US diplomats view Kevin Rudd and his leadership.

Overnight in London Assange appeared in court and has been charged with four charges, three of “harming sexual integrity” and one of rape. He is in jail, on remand until December 14. Bail was refused, despite many bigwigs — including John Pilger, director Ken Loach and Jemima Khan — in court, offering to cover bail.

Crikey‘s Guy Rundle was in the media scrum, sending text messages to Crikey journalist Andrew Crook — as Rundle’s iPhone had been confiscated — to relay from the @crikey_news Twitter account. It makes for compelling reading.

11:20pm: Crikey’s Guy Rundle in London at Magistrates’ Court waiting for Assange. Tweets to come #wikileaks
11:24pm: Assange to appear at Central Westminster Magistrates’ Court at 2pm London time #wikileaks
11:25pm: Hearing will declare if Assange will contest extradition and request bail #wikileaks
11:29pm: Protest against Assange arrest at 1pm London time, City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Horseferry Road, SW1 #wikileaks
11:31pm: Rundle has had iPhone confiscated, @andrewjcrook now relaying texts from Melbourne #wikileaks
11:37pm: No clear news on whether Swedes have formally charged Assange #wikileaks
11:50pm: Corridor of Magistrates’ Court filled with global media jockeying for queue near door #Wikileaks
11:52pm: French media come in big man kiss, lots of bof bof #Wikileaks
11:58pm: Assange lawyer Mark Stephens just arrived without Assange #Wikileaks
12:00am: Assange has arrived is in cells #wikileaks
12:04am: Swedish journos just arrived. No explicit charges made this morning as far as they know #wikileaks
12:07am: Fifty journos in doorway of court breathing each others eggy breath #wikileaks
12:09am: Swedish media muttering about honigskeller — honey trap #wikileaks
12:32am: Swedish journos: were women leaned on not to drop their complaint? #wikileaks
12:44am: Court opened. Two Australian consular officials have arrived #wikileaks
1:04am: Swedish newspaper Expressen says Assange UK lawyer never contacted Swedish prosecutors for meeting. UK lawyers disagree #wikileaks
1:53am: Waiting anxiously for news from Rundle and other journos inside the court #wikileaks
2:06am: News: Assange is on remand till 14 December #wikileaks
2:20am: UK journo @jrug claims that Assange legal team were confident that £180k for bail was enough — but it clearly wasn’t #wikileaks
2:22am: John Pilger, Jemima Khan and Ken Loach were in court and were willing to stand bail, to no avail #wikileaks
2:30am: Assange charges: one of rape, three of “harming sexual integrity” #wikileaks

Australian-born human rights lawyer QC Geoffrey Robertson is flying back from a holiday in Sydney to represent Assange in the future. An open letter to Julia Gillard, asking for the Australian government to “ensure Mr Assange receives the rights and protections to which he is entitled, irrespective of whether the unlawful threats against him come from individuals or states,” has been signed by notaries including QC Julian Burnside, Greens MP Adam Bandt and Greens Senator Bob Brown.

Julian Assange also penned an op-ed in today’s edition of The Australian, outlining the importance of WikiLeaks and why governments must be kept accountable:

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.

People have said I am anti-war: for the record, I am not. Sometimes nations need to go to war, and there are just wars. But there is nothing more wrong than a government lying to its people about those wars, then asking these same citizens to put their lives and their taxes on the line for those lies. If a war is justified, then tell the truth and the people will decide whether to support it…

…We are the underdogs. The Gillard government is trying to shoot the messenger because it doesn’t want the truth revealed, including information about its own diplomatic and political dealings.

Has there been any response from the Australian government to the numerous public threats of violence against me and other WikiLeaks personnel? One might have thought an Australian prime minister would be defending her citizens against such things, but there have only been wholly unsubstantiated claims of illegality.

Journalist Philip Dorling, working for Fairfax, managed to get his hands on previously unseen cables, involving bitchy assessments of then-PM Kevin Rudd and his leadership style, provided by WikiLeaks. The cables were sent by the US embassy in Canberra to former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Reads one:

“Rudd … undoubtedly believes that with his intellect, his six years as a diplomat in the 1980s and his five years as shadow foreign minister, he has the background and the ability to direct Australia’s foreign policy. His performance so far, however, demonstrates that he does not have the staff or the experience to do the job properly…”

Other character assessments call Rudd a “control freak”, “micro-manager” — in reality, no surprises there, as the Australian media and others involved have been calling him those for years — but also note that Rudd dominated foreign affairs when he was PM, “leaving his foreign minister to perform mundane, ceremonial duties and relegating the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to a backwater”.

Unlike most other media organisations dealing with WikiLeaks information though, The Age hasn’t released the entire cables and so far no news on what other information they might contain. Watch this space…

Peter Fray

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