London: Socialite Jemima Khan today became the first high-profile supporter of Julian Assange to launch a blistering attack on the WikiLeaks founder, warning that he may lose his "hero" status, expecting his supporters to follow him with "unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion".
The British heiress - the latest defector from the WikiLeaks camp - said the chief of the whistle-blowing website risks becoming Australia's version of L Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.
"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 in British weekly magazine News Statesman, where she is an associate editor.
The London-based socialite and former wife of Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan was among a group of people who put up bail money for Assange during a failed legal challenge to extradition proceedings brought by authorities in Sweden, where he faces allegations of rape and sexual assault.
They were ordered by a court last year to forfeit around 200,000 pounds in bail money after the embattled WikiLeaks chief broke his bail conditions in June 2012 and took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
He has been inside the building ever since. While Khan - daughter of the late financier James Goldsmith - has not revealed the exact amount she lost, it is believed that her support for Assange had cost her 20,000 pounds.
"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," wrote 39-year-old Khan, also the executive producer of a documentary film about WikiLeaks entitled 'We Steal Secrets', which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the US.
She 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, saying: "If it's a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange."
"We all want a hero. After WikiLeaks released the infamous Collateral Murder video in 2010, showing US troops gunning down a dozen civilians in Iraq, I jokingly asked if Assange was the new Jason Bourne, on the run and persecuted by the state.
It would be a tragedy if a man who has done so much good were to end up tolerating only disciples and unwavering devotion, more like an Australian L Ron Hubbard," she wrote in the weekly.
Assange was arrested in Britain in December 2010 on an extradition warrant from Sweden and Khan had led a campaign in favour of him ever since. She now describes her "journey" with Assange as one from "admiration to demoralisation".
But despite the disappointments, Khan vowed that if he were prosecuted in America "even his most disenchanted former supporters will take to the barricades in his defence".
She maintains that there were still questions to be asked over Sweden's handling of the investigation and repeated calls she has made previously for Assange to answer the charges. She stressed that while she does not regret putting up money she did to ensure his bail, she did not expect him to hide from the allegations.
"The women in question have human rights, too, and need resolution. Assange's noble cause and his wish to avoid a US court does not trump their right to be heard in a Swedish court," she said.