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WikiLeaks chief moved to isolation in British jail

Dec. 11, 2010 1:00 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 12, 2010 11:19 A.M.)
By Guy Jackson

LONDON (AFP) -- WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange was in an isolation unit of a London jail Saturday, as new leaked US diplomatic cables revealed a row between the Vatican and Ireland over a child abuse inquiry.

The 39-year-old Australian had been transferred from the main section of Wandsworth prison to an isolation unit, Jennifer Robinson, one of his legal team, said Friday.

"The prison authorities are doing it for his own safety, presumably," she told Agence France-Presse.

Assange is due to appear in a London court for a second time Tuesday after being arrested on a warrant issued by Sweden. Prosecutors there want to question him about two women's allegations of rape and sexual molestation.

WikiLeaks insists the allegations are politically motivated because the whistleblowing website has enraged Washington and governments around the world by releasing thousands of classified US diplomatic cables.

Robinson complained that Assange was getting no recreation time in the prison and was having difficulties getting phone calls out. "He is on his own," she said.

The former computer hacker was not allowed to have a laptop in his cell, but his lawyers have requested one.

"We are trying to prepare a legal appeal and he has difficulties hand writing, so it would be much easier in order to assist us in the preparation if he had a laptop," Robinson said, without explaining why he had difficulty writing.

Assange was in "very good" spirits but "frustrated" that he could not answer the allegations that WikiLeaks was behind cyber attacks launched on credit card firms that have refused to do business with the website.

"He told me he is absolutely not involved and this is a deliberate attempt to conflate WikiLeaks, which is a publishing organisation, with hacking organisations which are not," she said.

The websites of the Dutch prosecutor's office and police became the latest target of cyber attacks Friday, "probably" linked to the arrest of a 16-year-old WikiLeaks supporter, officials said.

Assange's lawyer however denied reports that his legal team believed a US indictment over WikiLeaks was imminent.

But she added: "Our position is that any prosecution under the espionage act would be unconstitutional and call into question First Amendment protections for all media organisations."

Assange's mother said she was worried for her son because "massive forces" were ranged against him.

Christine Assange dismissed the rape accusations, but told Australia's Seven Network she was concerned about what would happen to him.

"Julian, rape? Straight out of my guts -- no way. Julian would not rape," she said, adding: "It's a worry, of course. I am no different from any other mother.

"These massive forces have decided they are going to stop him and they are not going to play by the rules."

US cables released by WikiLeaks Friday showed the Vatican refused to cooperate with an Irish probe into child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Dublin because the requests were not made through official channels.

Requests for information by the government-appointed 2009 Murphy commission "offended many in the Vatican... because they saw them as an affront to Vatican sovereignty", said a cable from the US embassy in Rome, leaked by WikiLeaks.

The Murphy commission's findings, published in November 2009, caused shock across Ireland and the worldwide Catholic community by detailing how Church authorities covered up for paedophile priests in Dublin for three decades.

Another cable showed that mining giant BHP Billiton lobbied the Australian government hard to bring down a proposed 19.5 billion dollar deal between its rival Rio Tinto and China's Chinalco.

The deal's collapse "spared" Canberra from having to make a difficult decision on whether to approve the proposal, but left then prime minister Kevin Rudd to face "an unhappy China", the cable said.

And Julieta Noyes, US deputy chief of mission to the Vatican, wrote in a classified cable that the Vatican helped secure the release of 15 British navy personnel detained by Iran in 2007.

But another cable dated April 11, 2007, says the British credited Oman with helping secure the sailors' release, after the foreign minister made regular calls to the Iranian authorities to urge they be freed.

Meanwhile, former WikiLeaks supporters who have fallen out with Assange said they would launch a rival project aiming to get secret documents directly to media, called OpenLeaks.
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