REYKJAVIK — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who faces rape allegations in Sweden, should step aside as a spokesman for the whistleblower website, an Icelandic parliamentarian and close associate of the site said Tuesday.
"I think it would be very good for WikiLeaks if there was another spokesperson or even many spokespersons," said Birgitta Jonsdottir, who with WikiLeaks' help recently launched an initiative to make Iceland a safe haven for journalists and whistleblowers.
"It would be convenient if he (Assange) would step aside as a spokesman," she told AFP, stressing however that "he has my support in all the other parts he plays in WikiLeaks."
"I think it is always a bit dangerous to mix personal matters and to be a spokesperson for a movement like (WikiLeaks)," said the 43-year-old media freedom champion who in June oversaw the passing of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI).
Jonsdottir's comments came as Assange remained in the media spotlight after a two-week-long confusing roller coaster ride of rape and molestation charges in Sweden.
It was late in the evening on August 20 that rape allegations from two women led a duty prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant for Assange.
Another prosecutor however abruptly withdrew the warrant the next day and cancelled the rape charges a few days later, only to see her decision appealed and the rape case reopened by yet another prosecutor.
The handling of the case, Jonsdottir said, had been detrimental to WikiLeaks, already under pressure over its release of nearly 77,000 classified US military documents about the war in Afghanistan and its plans to release about 15,000 more.
"WikiLeaks has already been damaged by the way the matter was handled in the beginning. It has really been astonishing to follow the matter from beginning to end," she said, insisting that "there is nothing that indicates that a rape has been committed."
And yet, "three words have been connected: Julian -- Wikileaks -- Rape. So of course the effects on Wikileaks have not been good," she said.
Assange, 39, said when the allegations first emerged that they were part of a Washington-orchestrated "smear campaign," although he has toned down the claim in recent interviews.
Jonsdottir, who says she has worked closely with WikiLeaks and knows Assange "quite well," said she felt he "should have been more careful in drawing the conclusion that it was a conspiracy in the beginning."
"But of course those who make propaganda have used what happened in Sweden to smear his reputation and WikiLeaks," she said.
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