Assange granted bail after appeal fails
By Jane Croft and Tim Bradshaw in London and Joseph Menn in San Francisco
Published: December 16 2010 13:25 | Last updated: December 16 2010 13:25
Julian Assange, the freedom of information campaigner who has spent the past week in prison, is to be released from prison after Swedish prosecutors failed to overturn a judge’s decision to grant him bail on sexual assault charges.
A High Court judge heard an appeal from UK prosecutors acting on behalf of the Swedish government, who argued he should not be released on bail because he is perceived as being a flight risk ahead of an extradition hearing next year.
The 39-year-old founder of WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website, is wanted in Sweden over claims of rape and sexual assault against two women. Sweden issued a warrant for his arrest last week.
Mr Assange has embarrassed the US and other governments by leaking thousands of confidential diplomatic cables. The revelations have been condemned by countries worldwide but have been praised by freedom of information campaigners.
He has been held in Wandsworth prison in south London since being denied bail last week.
On Tuesday, district judge Howard Riddle said he would grant Mr Assange bail provided that he was fitted with an electronic tag, would be resident at Ellingham Hall, a stately home in Suffolk, and would report to a nearby police station daily.
The conditions also included that he provided bail of £240,000, surrendered his passport to be retained by police and that he could not apply for international travel documents.
Mr Justice Ouseley, the high court judge, ruled that there was not a substantial flight risk but demanded extra surety before releasing Mr Assange.
Mr Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, told reporters outside the court on Thursday that the funds had been raised, in part from prominent supporters, including film-makers Ken Loach, John Pilger and Michael Moore.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, acting for Mr Assange, told Tuesday’s court hearing that the Swedish laws on rape were “very, very different” to the UK and the category of the alleged offence would not amount to rape under English law.
If Mr Assange is released, he will stay at Ellingham Hall, a 600-acre, 10-bedroom mansion owned by Captain Vaughan Smith, a former Grenadier Guards officer who runs the Frontline club, a journalists’ haunt in London.
Capt Smith was one of two people standing surety for Mr Assange.
London’s Metropolitan Police have also said it is investigating recent internet attacks by Anonymous, the loose collective of WikiLeaks-supporting activists who have taken revenge against perceived opponents of the whistleblowing site.
Meanwhile, US authorities are exploring ways to prosecute Mr Assange for disclosing military and diplomatic secrets.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Mr Assange could face charges if prosecutors find evidence that he encouraged or helped Bradley Manning, the military analyst that is accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.
Direct involvement in leaking the documents rather than receiving and publishing them would be an easier case to make against Mr Assange, if proof was found of any such activity.
Mr Stephens said at the weekend that Sweden had informed his team that the US investigation of WikiLeaks for espionage or other wrongdoing had accelerated. “We have heard from the Swedish authorities that there has been a secretly empanelled grand jury in Alexandria,” in Virginia, he told Al-Jazeera interviewer Sir David Frost.
Because Sweden has indicated it would be likely to defer to the US if an indictment was forthcoming and try to extradite him to America, the sex allegations are “nothing more than a holding charge”, said Mr Stephens.
A spying case in the US would nonetheless be difficult to prosecute. Some members of Congress have acknowledged as much in proposing new laws that would make publishing classified US documents an offence.
At present, an Espionage Act case would conflict with First Amendment free-speech protection, said Kevin Bankston, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“Based on the facts available so far, any attempt to prosecute Julian Assange for publishing the cables would be unprecedented as a matter of First Amendment law and would likely face insurmountable hurdles,” said Mr Bankston.
But there are other laws that the US could invoke. There is a conspiracy component to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which might apply to anyone who actively aided suspected leakers who had unauthorised access to the State Department material.
That sort of coaching would be hard to prove, said E.J. Hilbert, a former FBI anti-hacker agent who is now president of Online Intelligence, an internet company.
Mr Hilbert said charges also could be sought for receiving stolen goods.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
FT.com / Europe - Assange granted bail after appeal fails