'Secret charges' filed against Assange
Sydney - US prosecutors have drawn up secret charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a confidential e-mail cited by media on Wednesday said, as his lawyer demanded Australia start protecting him.
The e-mail is one of a huge number from the US-based global intelligence company Stratfor that the whistleblowing organisation began publishing on Monday.
Internal correspondence to Stratfor analysts from vice-president of intelligence Fred Burton said: "We have a sealed indictment on Assange," according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The newspaper, which has access to the emails through an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks, said the comment on January 26 last year was made in response to a media report about US investigations targeting WikiLeaks.
Awaiting appeal decision
The information came with the request to protect it and not publish, the paper said, adding that Burton had close ties to the US intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Assange, an Australian citizen, is awaiting a British Supreme Court decision on his appeal against extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations.
He strongly denies the claims, saying they are politically motivated and linked to the activities of WikiLeaks.
Assange fears being sent to Stockholm would open the way for his extradition to the United States to face charges of spying linked to the leaking of classified military documents by US soldier Bradley Manning.
Manning was formally charged last week for allegedly turning over a trove of classified US documents to WikiLeaks in one of the most serious intelligence breaches in US history.
Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson said in Australia that the government needed to start standing up for one of its citizens and only had to look at Manning's treatment to see what awaited the WikiLeaks boss.
"We need only look at the treatment of Bradley Manning... who has been held in inhumane and degrading conditions for more than 600 days without trial to know what fate awaits Julian should be extradited to the US," she said.
"It is time the Australian government and the Australian people start asking questions. He is an Australian citizen and he deserves our protection."
She said that regardless of the outcome of the British court case, fears were high that the US would seek an extradition.
"Irrespective of what happens now we have confirmation that there is a sealed indictment, that we could be seeing an extradition request from the US irrespective of the outcome," said Robinson.
‘Need to take a straight line’
Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam demanded to know whether Canberra knew about any secret US charges.
"What we need to know is whether the Australian government was tipped off, or whether the prime minister read about this in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning," he told reporters.
The Australian government needed to take "a very straight line" with the US on the issue, he added.
"That we will not permit, and we will not tolerate his transfer to the US, to face charges that could potentially land him in prison, potentially for decades."