Thursday, December 16, 2010

UK High Court Grants Julian Assange Bail

UK court grants Assange bail

High Court in London upholds decision to grant WikiLeaks' founder bail, after authorities challenged prior decision

Last Modified: 16 Dec 2010 13:17 GMT

Julian Assange has been imprisoned since December 7, when he was arrested in London

An English court has upheld the decision to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange bail after authorities challenged a previous decision.

Duncan Ouseley, High Court justice, rejected the argument by prosecutors on Thursday that the 39-year-old Australian should stay in prison because there was a risk he would flee the country.

"The court does not approach this case on the basis that this is a fugitive from justice who seeks to avoid interrogation and prosecution," he said.

Mark Stephens, Assange's lawyer, said he expected his client to be released later on Thursday or "on a worst case analysis tomorrow".

"But we really do expect him to be released today. Everybody is working very hard for that," he said outside court.

Bail conditions

Stephens said they had raised the $316,000 bail money, put forward by a host of well-known figures including Jemima Khan, Bianca Jagger, film-maker Ken Loach and journalist John Pilger.

But the judge ruled that another two sureties worth about $31,500 each were required, saying that some of the people pledging money did not know Assange very well.

"The problem has been the extra money that the judge has asked for from five separate people,"Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent at the court, said.

"Some of these people are not in London right now, so they are trying to get them to the court to sign the release," she said.

Once freed he will be required to stay at the large country estate of Vaughan Smith, founder of a London media club, in what Assange's lawyer termed "mansion arrest".

Under the bail conditions set on Thursday, the website founder will be subject to an electronic tag and a curfew, move within certain boundaries and report to the police everyday.

Assange's mother, Christine, welcomed the judge's decision, saying she believed that the court would do the right thing.

"I had faith that the British justice system would do the right thing and that the judge would uphold the magistrate's decision. And that faith has been confirmed today," she said outside court.

The High Court hearing took place two days after a magistrate's court granted him release on the conditions he would wear an electronic tag, and obey a strict curfew.

Assange has been held in Wandsworth prison in south London since December 7, when he was arrested on a European arrest warrant for questioning over alleged sex crimes in Sweden.

The court appearance came amid confusion over who brought the appeal against his case.

Initial reports suggested Swedish authorities had pushed to appeal Assange's bail, but a report in the Guardian newspaper said it was British authorities who had made the move.

The Swedish prosecutor's office told the paper it had "not got a view at all on bail", saying the decision was made by the British prosecutor.

"I got it confirmed by the CPS this morning that the decision to appeal the granting of bail was entirely a matter for the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service)," Karin Rosander, director of communications for Sweden's prosecutor's office, told the Guardian.

"The Swedish prosecutors are not entitled to make decisions within Britain. It is entirely up to the British authorities to handle it."

The CPS confirmed to Al Jazeera that it was up to the British prosecution to make the decision to appeal Assange's bail, saying it was standard practice in an international case such as this.

But Stephens said "who asked for the bail remains opaque and we still don't know who it was".

Political claims rejected

Supporters of the Australian say the allegations against him are trumped up, vindictive and possibly politically motivated.

Figures pledging bail
Jemima Khan, rights activist and writer
Bianca Jagger, human rights campaigner
John Pilger, journalist
Hanif Kureishi, author
Peter Tatchell, rights activist
Ken Loach, film-maker
Sarah Saunders, British restaurateur
Michael Moore, film-maker
John Sulston, Nobel Prize winning scientist
Lord Evans, Labour peer
Vaughan Smith, Frontline club founder

Stephens said on Wednesday that "somebody has it in for Julian Assange and we only can conjecture why."

Lawyer Gemma Lindfield, acting for Sweden, said that Assange is accused of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion by two women for separate incidents in August.

She said one of the women had accused Assange of pinning her down and refusing to use a condom. A second woman says Assange had sex with her without a condom while he was a guest at her Stockholm home and she was asleep.

Assange, who has not been charged in Sweden, has denied any wrongdoing.

His lawyers say the allegations stem from a dispute over "consensual but unprotected sex" and argue that he has offered to make himself available for questioning via video link or in person in Britain.

Lindfield also rejected attempts to link Assange's case with the work of WikiLeaks - which last month deeply angered US officials by beginning to publish its trove of 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables.

"This is not a case about WikiLeaks, rather a case about alleged serious offences against two women," said Lindfield.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

No comments: