Jemima Khan denounces "cultish devotion" to WikiLeaks' Assange

LONDON Wed Feb 6, 2013 11:27pm IST

1 of 2. Socialite and activist Jemima Khan arrives to attend a parliamentary committee hearing on phone hacking at Portcullis House in London July 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Jemima Khan, a celebrity backer of Julian Assange who put up bail money for him, has gone public with her frustrations about the WikiLeaks founder, saying he demands "blinkered, cultish devotion" and should face justice in Sweden.

An article by Khan published on Wednesday on the website of British magazine The New Statesman gives an insight into how Assange, whose whistleblowing website angered Washington by releasing thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, has alienated some of his staunchest allies.

Assange was arrested in Britain in December 2010 on an extradition warrant from Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual abuse made by two women.

After losing a protracted legal battle to avoid extradition, which went all the way to Britain's Supreme Court, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London last June. He has been inside the building ever since.

Khan, who first rose to prominence as an heiress but is now a campaigner and an associate editor of The New Statesman, described in her article how she had gone from "admiration to demoralisation" on the subject of WikiLeaks.

"The problem is that WikiLeaks - whose mission statement was 'to produce ... a more just society ... based upon truth' - has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion," she wrote.

Khan was executive producer of a documentary film about WikiLeaks entitled "We Steal Secrets" which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States.

Khan said the film, directed by Oscar-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney, sought to present a balanced view of the WikiLeaks story but Assange had denounced it before seeing it.

"When I told Assange I was part of the We Steal Secrets team, I suggested that he view it not in terms of being pro- or anti-him, but rather as a film that would be fair and would represent the truth," she wrote.

"He replied: 'If it's a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange.'"

Khan's article praised WikiLeaks for exposing corruption, torture, war crimes and cover-ups but criticised it for a "with us or against us" mentality that was detrimental to its cause.

"WOMEN HAVE RIGHTS TOO"

She wrote that she was among those who had found the timing of the sexual abuse allegations against Assange suspicious, as they came at the height of the furore over the revelations on WikiLeaks, but had come to the conclusion that the allegations had to be dealt with through Swedish due process.

"The women in question have human rights, too, and need resolution. Assange's noble cause and his wish to avoid a U.S. court does not trump their right to be heard in a Swedish court," she wrote, referring to Assange's fears that Sweden could be a first stop on the way to an espionage trial in the United States.

"I don't regret putting up bail money for Assange but I did it so that he would be released while awaiting trial, not so that he could avoid answering to the allegations," Khan wrote.

Khan has not disclosed how much money she put up and whether she has had to surrender it since Assange skipped bail.

Khan wrote that it was hardly surprising that a man who had spent his life "committed to this type of work, wedded to a laptop, undercover, always on the move", would have an unusual personality.

"I have seen flashes of Assange's charm, brilliance and insightfulness - but I have also seen how instantaneous rock-star status has the power to make even the most clear-headed idealist feel that they are above the law and exempt from criticism."

(Reporting By Estelle Shirbon; editing by Andrew Roche)

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