Julian Assange held while Sweden appeals bail

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Assange at the SKUP conference for investigative journalism
Image: Espen Moe.
"I am very happy with the judge's decision and I thank you all so much for supporting Julian

—Assange's mother, Christine

Founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks Julian Assange will remain in jail for at least 48 hours as Sweden contests the decision to grant him bail. Assange was granted bail in a hearing at London's Westminster Magistrate's Court; however, Sweden filed an appeal hours later.

Assange was granted bail with the help of former British army officer Vaughan Smith, who told the court that Assange could stay at his mansion in Suffolk. Defense barrister Geoffrey Robertson said that Smith would keep Assange "if not under house arrest, at least under mansion arrest". Assange's lawyers say that Assange is only wanted for questioning, and has not been charged with any crimes. To this the magistrate agreed. However the lawyers representing Sweden countered by saying "The court has already found that Mr. Assange is a flight risk. Nothing has changed in this regard. [If the alleged offences took place in Britain] it undoubtedly would have been a charge of rape in this jurisdiction." Robertson did not agree.

The magistrate set the bail at £200,000, with two additional guarantees of £20,000; Assange would also have to surrender his passport and submit to electronic monitoring. He would also have to spend at least four hours at Smith's mansion in the day and four at night. He will also have to check in with police every day between 6–8 pm local time. After the magistrate outlined the conditions Assange emotionlessly said, "I understand".

Celebrities were also present in the courtroom to show their support for Assange. Among those in attendance were Fatima Bhutto, Bianca Jagger, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and John Pilger. Outside the courthouse approximately 100 people protested holding placards carrying messages such as "Why are you shooting the messenger?", "Julian Assange is a political prisoner", and "This is not 1984". Assange's mother Christine was present at the courthouse and told reporters, "I am very happy with the judge's decision and I thank you all so much for supporting Julian."

Assange has been accused of rape and sexual molestation which allegedly took place in Stockholm, Sweden. Assange could face up to two years in prison if convicted and his lawyers have pledged to fight an extradition.