Julian Assange’s bail challenged in high court by Sweden


Prosecutors want WikiLeaks founder to remain behind bars until extradition is decided despite £240,000 in guarantees

Mark Tran and Matthew Weaver

Supporters outside the court hearing in London at which Assange  was granted bail
Supporters outside the court hearing in London at which Assange was granted bail. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The high court will hold a hearing tomorrow on a Swedish appeal against bail for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
The 39-year-old Australian, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over alleged sex crimes, was granted £200,000 bail yesterday but the Swedish authorities challenged the decision.
Assange’s supporters fear that should he be extradited to Sweden, he could eventually be sent to the US. Last night the Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, issued a statement that Sweden would be unable to extradite Assange to the US without the consent of the UK – “the surrendering country”.
WikiLeaks’s decision to publish thousands of secret US diplomatic cables has been described as a blow against US national interests. Many Americans believe Assange should be tried for orchestrating the release.
Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, a lawyer for Assange said his backers had raised around half of the £200,000 cash he needs to secure bail.
Mark Stephens said members of the public had asked to contribute to the fund. “We have to come up with £200,000 in pound notes and that is difficult to come by,” Stephens told BBC News. “We’ve got about half of that right now, but of course people will understand that even wealthy people don’t keep that kind of money knocking around.”
Prominent public figures including the American film director Michael Moore, the campaigning Australian journalist John Pilger and the author Hanif Kureishi have pledged their support.
“I’m getting offers from the general public who are coming in and saying we really would like to contribute to this – Julian Assange shouldn’t be in jail,” said Stephens, who again accused the Swedish authorities of callousness.
“Why is it that Swedish authorities are so dead set that Julian Assange spends Christmas in jail. Do they have the genes of Scrooge?” he asked.
The conditions of Assange’s bail say he must stay at a supporter’s country house in Suffolk, report to police daily and wear an electronic tag. The court has asked for a further £40,000 in guarantees that would have to be paid if he disappeared.
However, the Swedish authorities fear he could flee. “He remains a significant flight risk and no conditions that the court can impose could prevent his flight,” prosecution lawyer Gemma Lindfield, representing the Swedish authorities, told the City of Westminster magistrates court yesterday.
Assange’s barrister, Geoffrey Robertson QC, yesterday dismissed claims his client was a flight risk, saying that as a result of the past fortnight’s WikiLeaks stories his face was known worldwide.
Robertson gave a taste of what Assange’s argument could be when the extradition case begins in earnest. He said there was no allegation that Assange had used violence or injured the two women making allegations against him. One allegation, that he had sex with a woman while she slept, may not be an offence under English law, he said.
Assange could be named Time magazine’s person of the year later today after easily topping a reader poll. But Time readers do not reflect mainstream opinion in the US, according to the Washington Post. Its own poll found that almost six out 10 Americans believe Assange should face criminal charges for releasing the cables.

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