/ 17 December 2010

Assange walks free on bail in London

Assange Walks Free On Bail In London

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, fighting extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, walked free on bail from a British jail on Thursday protesting his innocence and pledging to continue exposing official secrets.

Assange spoke to a crowd of journalists and supporters waiting in outside the High Court in London five hours after a judge said he could be released on £200 000 ($312 000) bail under stringent conditions.

“It’s great to smell fresh air of London again,” Assange, illuminated by a blizzard of photographers’ flashes, said.

WikiLeaks has angered US authorities by publishing hundreds of a trove of 250 000 US diplomatic cables, including details of overseas installations that Washington regards as vital to its security.

Assange, wearing a dark suit and open-necked white shirt, brandished court papers titled “Swedish Judicial Authority vs Julian Paul Assange”. He was then driven away in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The 39-year-old Australian later arrived at Ellingham Hall, in Suffolk eastern England, where he must live as a condition of his bail. He spoke to reporters at the mansion that belongs to a former army officer and Assange supporter, Vaughan Smith.

“I continue on with our work. Clearing my name is not the highest task I have. The highest task I have is to continue with my work.”

Janice Game (63) who lives opposite the Georgian house said she had come out to see reporters waiting in the snow for Assange to drive through the gates of the 263 hectare estate.

“I do not think that Vaughan would have him at the house unless he believed completely that he was innocent.”

Assange has spent nine days in a London jail after Sweden issued an arrest warrant for him over allegations of sexual misconduct made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers. Assange denies the accusations. Assange told reporters soon after his release that he was more concerned the United States might try to extradite him than he was about being extradited to Sweden.

Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that US prosecutors might be preparing to indict him for espionage over WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents.

“We have a rumour today from my lawyers in the United States, it’s not confirmed yet, that there has been an indictment made against me in the United States,” Assange said.

The New York Times said on Wednesday federal prosecutors were looking for evidence that he had conspired with a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking classified documents.

Shortly before Assange’s release, his mother Christine, who had flown over from Australia, said she could not wait to see her son and “to hold him close”.

Australian police said WikiLeaks was not committing any criminal offence in Assange’s home country by releasing the US cables.

Celebrities such as journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach and socialite Jemima Khan are backing Assange.

Appeal rejected
High Court Justice Duncan Ouseley upheld a lower court decision to release Assange on bail, rejecting an appeal by British prosecutors who had argued he was a flight risk.

Assange must also abide by a curfew, report to police daily, and wear an electronic tag.

Smith said his home, set in sprawling grounds, would offer Assange peace and security. “It’s quite hard to get too close without trespassing,” he told Sky News. “The internet is not so good though.”

A defiant Assange had told reporters in central London the diplomatic cables showed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had instructed US ambassadors around the world “to engage in espionage behaviour”.

This seemed to be “representative of a gradual shift to a lack of rule of law in US institutions that needs to be exposed and that we have been exposing,” he said.

Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens accused Swedish authorities of pursuing a vendetta against his client. He said the cell in London’s Wandsworth prison where Assange was held had once been occupied by the writer Oscar Wilde, who spent part of his sentence for gross indecency at the jail in the 1890s.

A full extradition hearing is expected in early February. – Reuters