Wikileaks' Assange granted bail

Julian Assange, editor of whistleblowing site Wikileaks, is set for release on bail of £200,000, but must be electronically tagged and held to a curfew
Written by Karen Friar and Tom Espiner, Contributor

Wikileaks editor Julian Assange has been granted bail in his fight against extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes charges, subject to appeal by prosecutors.

On Tuesday, the City of Westminster Magistrates Court in London decided that Assange could be released on bail, if a £200,000 security deposit can be raised. Two sureties of £20,000 have already been deposited with the court, and Sarah Saunders, a friend of Assange's, has offered £150,000 surety.

Swedish investigators want Assange to be extradited on a European Arrest Warrant for questioning about allegations of sexual molestation and rape. Tuesday's hearing was the second round in the court battle over Assange, who was denied bail in the same court a week ago on the basis that he was a flight risk.

As a condition of bail, Assange must stay, eat and sleep at a supporter's home at Ellingham Hall in Bungay, Suffolk, and must report daily to local police there. He has a curfew of 10am to 4pm, then 10pm to 4am, during which he must stay indoors. He must wear an electronic tag with geolocation sensors to make sure he sticks to these rules. The Wikileaks editor has already surrendered his passport to UK police, and he is barred from applying for any other international documents.

Mark Stephens, Assange's solicitor, said that Assange will be held for the time being at Wandsworth prison in a statement outside the court. Should the Swedish prosecutors decide to appeal the magistrate's decision to grant bail, Assange will be held until a hearing at the High Court, which would likely be either Wednesday or Thursday. Should the prosecutors decide not to appeal, Assange will be held in the cells at Wandsworth until the security amount of £200,000 can be raised and deposited at the court.

Over the past few weeks, Wikileaks has begun publishing hundreds of thousands of sensitive US diplomatic cables, revealing secret information on the US government's approach to the Iraq war and its attitude to allies and enemies alike. The potentially embarrassing documents have provoked condemnation from many in the US, with some politicians there looking to prosecute Assange under espionage laws. Amazon, PayPal and MasterCard are among the companies that have cut off their business relationship with the whistleblower group, leading to a backlash from activist organisation Anonymous and others.

Assange's supporters, who include journalist John Pilger and film director Ken Loach, have pointed out that the charges come at a time when Wikileaks is in the process of publishing. The cables are potentially embarrassing to governments around the world.

The next scheduled appearance in court for Assange is at a case management session on 11 January. At present, Assange is being held in custody at Wandsworth until the bail security is deposited with the court. Swedish prosecutors have two hours to file an appeal against the granting of bail.

"We'll know in two hours whether the Swedish authorities will appeal," John Pilger told ZDNet UK at the court.

"We're all very pleased that Julian got bail, but we're still waiting to hear whether the Swedish will appeal," Ken Loach told ZDNet UK. "If there is an appeal, that's just vindictive and shows political motivation."

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