Julian Assange granted bail over sex crime allegations in Sweden

Founder of WikiLeaks granted 240,000 bail at Westminster magistrates court after celebrities stand sureties

By Mark Tran

December 14, 2010 "The Guardian" - --A
British court today granted bail with strict conditions to Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks website, who faces allegations of rape in Sweden.

Assange's lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, asked the City of Westminster magistrates court in London for bail on five conditions: 200,000 in security, surety of 40,000 from two people, a curfew, daily reporting to police, and surrender of his passport.

The judge granted the conditions and gave lawyers representing Sweden two hours to lodge an appeal.

A full extradition hearing is scheduled for 11 January.

 

John Pilger and Peter Tatchell explain why they've pledged money in surety for the WikiLeaks founder's bail outside the appeal hearing at Wesminster magistrates court in central London. Link to this video

"We doubt whether this actual category of rape would be rape under English law," said Robertson, a former appeals judge at the UN special court for Sierra Leone whose former clients include the author Salman Rushdie.

Appearing for the Swedish authorities, Gemma Lindfield argued that Assange should be declined bail as the charges were serious and there was a real possibility of his taking flight.

"This is not a case about WikiLeaks, rather a case about alleged serious offenses against two women," she said. Unlike Robertson, she said the allegations were serious and Assange had only weak ties to Britain and "the means and ability to abscond".

The news was greeted by cheers outside the courtroom, and Assange's supporters welcomed the move.

"I'm very pleased that he is out," said the writer and political activist Tariq Ali. "I think the extradition charges should now be dealt with in the same way. His barrister made the same point, that this is not rape under English law and there is absolutely no reason for extradition. We are delighted he is out and he should never have been locked up in the first place."

Assange entered court one at 2.12pm looking paler than he did last week, wearing a dark jacket and open-necked white shirt. With so much press interest, people were given permission to stand; in a break with tradition, journalists were allowed to tweet the proceedings.

Amid chaotic scenes, Robertson, who cut short a holiday in Australia to be in court, had to bang on the door to get in.

A minor scuffle broke out as a man wearing a hat in Swedish national colours was pushed from the road by police. Dozens of police officers corralled a vocal and diverse protest behind metal fencing on the other side of the road.

Some of Assange's celebrity supporters attended the hearing, including socialite Jemima Khan, Bianca Jagger and Fatima Bhutto, niece of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto. Outside, one protester held up a placard that read "Sex crimes, my arse!" But media outnumbered the protesters – who were about 30 strong.

Before the hearing, Assange remained defiant, telling his mother, Christine, from his cell he was committed to publishing more secret US cables. "My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have expressed. This circumstance shall not shake them," Assange said, according to a written statement of his comments supplied to Australia's Network Seven by his mother.

"We now know that Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and others are instruments of US foreign policy. I am calling for the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks," he said in the statement. The 39-year-old Australian turned himself in to Scotland Yard detectives last week after being accused of sexually assaulting two women in Sweden. He has vowed to fight attempts to extradite him.

He was denied bail by district judge Howard Riddle at City of Westminster magistrates court last Tuesday, on the grounds that there was a risk he would fail to surrender. The decision to remand him in custody came despite despite the film director Ken Loach, the journalist John Pilger, Khan and other suporters offering sureties for him totalling 180,000.

His legal team has claimed Swedish prosecutors were put under political pressure to restart their inquiry to help silence and discredit Assange, whose website has provoked US anger by publishing some of a cache of 250,000 classified US diplomatic papers.

Stephens, visited him in Wandsworth prison yesterday afternoon, and said his client was being held under harsher conditions than last week. He claimed Assange was being confined to his cell for all but half an hour a day, and denied association with others prisoners, access to the library or TV.

Stephens also claimed a number of letters to Assange from media organisations had not reached the WikiLeaks founder. He said Assange was under 24-hour video surveillance and had complained that a tooth that broke off while he was eating had later been stolen from his cell.