Madrid: A controversial Spanish judge criticised the US investigation into WikiLeaks on Thursday, saying that the grand jury process which could lead to charges being filed against the secret-spilling site's founder is undemocratic.

Baltasar Garzon, a human rights lawyer best known for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, recently agreed to act as an international coordinator for Julian Assange, the embattled WikiLeaks founder.

"A democratic country can't operate with its back to a person who is suspected of very serious crimes that could deprive him of liberty for a long time," Garzon told reporters. "The United States should make it known what it is doing so that Mr. Assange can stand up for his rights. We don't know what we are facing."

A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might lead to charges being filed against Assange for WikiLeaks' mass disclosure of hundreds of thousands of secret US documents, including a quarter of a million State Department cables whose publication rocked Washington. The grand jury has been investigating the matter for more than a year and could continue for months or even years longer. Witnesses have been called, though the identities of most are unknown.

US grand juries typically operate in secret, something which Assange and his supporters have criticised.

Garzon said he had no idea what was going on in the US, and that troubled him.

"We are very worried about what is happening," he said. Assange is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London while seeking asylum in the Latin American country. He hopes to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct. He and his supporters believe he is being persecuted politically for publishing the secret files.


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