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Europe

Judge grants bail to WikiLeaks founder Assange

Video by Louise Hannah

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-16

Britain's High Court in London upheld a decision granting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (pictured) bail Thursday after rejecting an appeal against his release. Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning on sexual offences.

AFP - A British court granted bail to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Thursday after rejecting an appeal to keep him in jail while he fights extradition to Sweden to answer allegations of sex crimes.

The Australian's lawyer, Mark Stephens, said there were some procedural issues that needed to be ironed out but he was hopeful that Assange could be freed later Thursday.

"We're expecting Julian to be released sometime later today, or worst case analysis, tomorrow," Stephens told reporters outside London's High Court. ""As you can imagine we're utterly delighted and thrilled."

Assange's mother, Christine, and supporters including campaigning journalist John Pilger, had packed into the courtroom for the hour-and-a-half hearing along with hordes of journalists.

"I'm very, very happy with the decision. I can't wait to see my son and to hold him close," Christine Assange said afterwards.

Other supporters who had gathered in driving rain outside court shrieked with delight at news of the ruling and chanted "exposing war crimes is no crime".

Assange, a 39-year-old former computer hacker who set up the whistle-blowing website, was in court to hear a senior judge reject an appeal against a ruling Tuesday by a lower court that he be bailed.

The appeal was lodged by British lawyers on behalf of Swedish prosecutors.

Judge Duncan Ouseley rejected the prosecution's argument that Assange was a flight risk, saying: "The court does not approach this case on the basis that this is a fugitive from justice who seeks to avoid interrogation and prosecution."

The judge endorsed the stringent bail conditions imposed by the lower court, which included a 240,000-pound (283,000-euro, 374,000-dollar) surety and the requirement that Assange wear an electronic tag and abide by a curfew.

When he is released, Assange will swap the stark surroundings of Wandsworth prison in London for a friend's country mansion in Suffolk, eastern England, and report regularly to police as conditions of the bail.

It was granted on condition that 200,000 pounds of the surety is paid to the court before Assange can be released. Stephens indicated the money -- raised from supporters -- would be available later Thursday.

Sweden wants Britain to extradite Assange for questioning over claims of rape and sexual molestation made by two women in Stockholm in August.

Assange denies the allegations and his lawyers argue they are politically motivated.

They cite the timing of his arrest, which coincided with the release by WikiLeaks of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables that have caused huge embarrassment and anger in Washington.

Hailing the judge's decision, Pilger said it was "good news but it's overdue" and suggested the wider issue was whether the United States would also eventually seek Assange's extradition.

"I think we should be looking in the long distance to the threat not just of extradition to Sweden but also of extradition to the US. That is the great unspoken issue in this court," Pilger told journalists.

Stephens said the potential for US legal action had not yet been "addressed".

Assange will now reside at Ellingham Hall, a mansion on the 600-acre country estate of Vaughan Smith, an ex-British army officer who founded the Frontline Club, the media club in London that has been the British base of WikiLeaks' operations.

Assange will stay there during the ongoing extradition proceedings, which may take months.

Meanwhile WikiLeaks released new cables Thursday, with Thailand's revered royal family again at the centre of the revelations.

A memo from the US embassy in Bangkok showed top palace officials expressed concern about the prospect of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn becoming king.

Another leaked cable revealed that an oil platform in Azerbaijan operated by BP suffered a blowout and a huge gas leak around 18 months before the Gulf of Mexico spill.

US President Barack Obama has led condemnation of WikiLeaks, dubbing their actions "deplorable", but WikiLeaks and its founder have also won global support.

In support of Assange, Hackers have attacked credit card websites that have refused to channel money to WikiLeaks.
 

Date created : 2010-12-16

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