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Poll: Almost half of Britons feel WikiLeaks sex charges are "excuse"

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • WikiLeaks' Assange has a bond hearing in London Tuesday on sex charges from Sweden
  • A new CNN poll finds that 44% of Britons think the charges are "an excuse"
  • Poll respondents think the charges are a pretext so that the U.S. can eventually charge him
  • 41% of Britons say Assange shouldn't be prosecuted for releasing secret U.S. cables

(CNN) -- Almost half of Britons believe that the sex charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are "an excuse" to keep him in custody so that the U.S. government can prosecute him for releasing secret diplomatic cables, a new CNN poll shows.

The CNN poll of British opinion, released Monday on the eve of Assange's bail hearing in London, finds that 44% of respondents in Great Britain believe that Sweden's sex charges are just a pretext, while only 13% flatly disagree. The remaining 43% say they don't know.

Assange, 39, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, is fighting extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of sexual assault.

British people responding to the poll said by a spreak of 41% to 30% that Assange shouldn't be prosecuted for releasing the secret diplomatic cables, with the remaining 29% not having made up their mind.

More people agree than disagree that Wikileaks was right to release the cables, by 42% to 33%. The remainder, 25%, don't have a position.

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Despite the prevailing opinion that the sex charges are a ploy, almost half of Britons, or 44%, say their government should send Assange to Sweden anyway for questioning. Twenty-nine percent disagree, and the rest say they don't know.

Age was a significant division in the results of the poll, conducted this month by ComRes for CNN. ComRes interviewed 2,010 British adults online between December 10 and December 13. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all adults in Great Britain.

Older people were significantly more likely to feel that Assange should be sent to Sweden for questioning and that he should be prosecuted for leaking the secret diplomatic cables.

For example, 42% of persons 65 and older say Assange should be prosecuted for releasing the secret diplomatic cables, a view held by only 21% of those between 25 and 34.

In the United States, most Americans who followed the news about WikiLeaks say its release of U.S. State Department cables harms the public interest, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

Only 31% of Americans who paid attention to the news say the WikiLeaks' publication of diplomatic documents serves the public interest, while 60% says it's harmful, according to the Pew center.

Americans make a distinction between the WikiLeaks website and the media's handling of the released documents, with only 38% saying the press has gone too far in reporting the secret cables. A nearly equal number, 39%, say news organizations have struck the right balance, and 14% of informed Americans say outlets have withheld too much from the public.

Assange, who voluntarily turned himself in to London authorities last week after a Swedish arrest warrant was issued, has denied any wrongdoing, and supporters have called the charges an attempt to strike back at him and his WikiLeaks group, which so far has released more than 1,300 of what it says will be more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic documents dating back 1966.

The London judge in the City of Westminster Magistrate's Court has repeatedly said the case is "not about WikiLeaks" but rather about serious sexual offenses that allegedly occurred on three occasions with two women.

Several celebrities have come forward and offered to pay Assange's surety, or bail.