In a bizarre twist to the controversy enveloping the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, media reports out of Sweden first had WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being hit with a rape charge--and then had Swedish prosecutors backtracking from those initial reports.
Initially, the Swedish newspaper Expressen reported that it had received confirmation late Friday of the rape complaint from the Stockholm prosecutor's office. The international press quickly picked up on the allegation.
But Saturday morning, CNN reported an about-face. Updating its story, under the headline "Is Assange the target of a U.S. smear campaign?" CNN cites Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne as saying in a blog post on the Swedish prosecutor's Web site that Assange "is not suspected of rape" and is no longer wanted.
The BBC wrote in its latest story that an arrest warrant had been canceled: "The Swedish Prosecution Authority Web site said the chief prosecutor had come to the decision that Mr. Assange was not suspected of rape but did not give any further explanation."
WikiLeaks had earlier characterized the allegation as a political maneuver intended to put it off-balance. The site is embroiled in an international uproar over its public posting of thousands of classified documents related to U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan.
"We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks'. Now we have the first one," WikiLeaks said via Twitter on Saturday, dismissing Expressen as a tabloid. "Needless to say this will prove hugely distracting."
In a blog post, WikiLeaks expressed its full support for Assange and vowed not to succumb to the distraction: "While Julian is focusing on his defenses and clearing his name, WikiLeaks will be continuing its regular operations."
Those operations will likely include the further release of U.S. military dispatches. In late July, WikiLeaks released more than 75,000 internal U.S. documents in what it calls an "Afghan War Diary." More recently, it has vowed to make public 15,000 additional documents in the coming weeks.
The U.S. government has condemned the action and called for the return of the classified documents, saying that the information they contain could jeopardize missions and the lives of both U.S. soldiers and Afghan nationals.
Earlier this year, WikiLeaks released a video titled "Collateral Murder" that shows a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq gunning down several journalists and civilians.
WikiLeaks sees itself as potentially "at the heart of [a] global revolution" that brings about greater accountability by governments and other large institutions.
The main WikiLeaks.org Web site is located in Sweden. According to newspaper reports, Assange--who has been elusive in his public appearances--was in Sweden recently to apply for a publishing certificate connected to those servers and to give a talk on his work.
And Sweden's Pirate Party has said that it would provide Internet hosting for WikiLeaks on its newly launched and anonymity-focused PirateISP service.