Assange to remain in custody despite bail ruling (Fourth Lead)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

LONDON - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remained behind bars in Britain Tuesday, despite being granted bail, as the tug of war over his extradition to Sweden continued, his lawyer confirmed.

Within minutes of a court ruling in London that the 39-year-old Australian should be freed on bail, the Swedish prosecuting authorities intervened to stop his release, announcing an appeal.

“This really is turning into a show trial,” Mark Stephens said in London, after receiving confirmation of the Swedish move. The appeal will be heard at the High Court in London over the next 48 hours.

“An innocent man will stay in jail,” said Stephens, adding that it was now clear that the case against his client was “more of a persecution than a prosecution”.

Supporters of Assange said it was becoming obvious that there was a “political element” to Sweden’s demand for his extradition.

Earlier Tuesday, a judge at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London had granted Assange bail against a cash sum of 200,000 pounds (about $315,000), plus two sureties of 20,000 pounds each.

It ruled that Assange, who was arrested after turning himself in at a London police station a week ago, would have to hand in his passport and observe a curfew that would be monitored by an electronic tag.

Assange will continue to fight his extradition to Sweden, requested under a European Arrest Warrant.

Among prominent personalities backing Assange, inside and outside court, were human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger, film producer Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the ex-wife of former Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan.

However, according to Stephens, his client would have to remain in jail even if the Swedish efforts to stop his release had not been successful.

Further complications were caused by the fact that the bail decision was linked to the provision of 200,000 pounds in cash.

“It will take us a very long time to gather the bail money,” Stephens said. A cheque would take at least seven days to clear.

It was a “pity” that Assange did not have access to card providers such as MasterCard and Visa, Stephens added in a sarcastic reference to the withdrawal of services by the card providers in the controversy over WikiLeaks damaging online revelations.

His client, said Stephens, would have to continue to endure “Dickensian conditions” in the segregation wing of London’s Wandsworth jail, one of the toughest in Britain.

Meanwhile, Loach said the legal intervention from Sweden aimed at stopping Assange’s release smacked of “vindictiveness” and confirmed suspicions that there was a “political element” to this case.

Similar fears were expressed by Bianca Jagger, the ex-wife of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, who said the case against Assange was being “politicised”.

Earlier Tuesday, Assange issued a defiant message from prison in London.

In a message related via his mother, Christine, who travelled to Britain from Australia to be present at the hearing, Assange said his “convictions are unfaltering” and he was determined to remain “true to his ideals”.

The allegations made against him in Sweden would not shake his ideals, Assange said. “If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct.”

“I am calling on the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral acts,” he said.

Meanwhile, Stephens said Tuesday that his client had not been handed any of his mail since he arrived at Wandsworth jail.

“Many hundreds of people have written to him and the authorities at Wandsworth Prison have not yet given him his letters, including legal letters,” said Stephens.

His client was on “23.5-hours-a-day lockdown” in the prison, taking his meals in his cell, his lawyer said. He was being kept under surveillance on infrared video.

The accusations against him include rape and molestation in one case and molestation and unlawful coercion in a second. They have nothing to do with the recent stream of publications of confidential US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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