UK

Bail appeal for Wikileaks founder Assange on Thursday

Julian Assange in his prison van en route to court (pic: Dec 14)
Image caption Julian Assange, photographed inside a prison van, is fighting extradition to Sweden

Swedish prosecutors will make their appeal against bail for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the High Court on Thursday.

The 39-year-old was granted bail at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on Tuesday on the condition he provides sureties of £240,000 in cash.

But he was forced to remain in Wandsworth Prison pending the appeal.

Mr Assange is fighting extradition to Sweden, where he denies sexually assaulting two women.

He argues that the allegations against him are politically motivated and are designed to distract attention from the sensitive material being exposed by his whistle-blowing website.

'Scrooge'

Mr Assange was granted bail on condition he provides a security of £200,000 to the court, with a further £40,000 guaranteed in two sureties of £20,000 each.

He must also surrender his passport, obey a curfew at an address in Norfolk, wear an electronic tag and report to a local police station every evening.

His lawyer Mark Stephens told the BBC on Wednesday that he was in the process of gathering the £200,000 in cash and had received a number of offers of money from members of the general public.

He said Mr Assange was accused of the lowest category of rape under Swedish law - an offence which authorities there had never previously used as grounds for extradition.

"It is unlikely that even if convicted Assange will go to jail, so in those circumstances one has to ask oneself why are the Swedish authorities so dead-set that he will spend Christmas in jail? Do they have the genes of Scrooge?

"The suggestion that he is a flight risk is faintly ludicrous," he added, claiming that an electronic tag would allow the authorities to "locate him 24 hours a day".

Another member of his legal team, Baroness Helena Kennedy, said he was coping well with the current situation.

"You couldn't take on political interests in the way that he has... expose some of the things that he feels should be in the public domain... You don't do that if you're not someone with great emotional resources and he has [those]."

Image caption Demonstrators gathered outside the court to show their support for Julian Assange

As a condition of his bail, the Wikileaks founder must live at the home of journalist Vaughan Smith.

Mr Smith told BBC Radio 5 live: "I've obviously taken a very public position to say I support him as an individual - that's not to say that I agree with everything that is being leaked.

"But certainly, as a person, I think it's very important he receives proper justice and I'm very pleased he was given bail yesterday."

Mr Smith said Mr Assange was "very committed and courageous", but had been portrayed by some as "a Machiavellian, cold, string-puller".

"I think we have to find a tolerant way of dealing with people even if we don't agree with them," he said, adding that the response of the Swedish authorities "looks like vengeance".

Sex allegations

A large crowd including demonstrators, reporters and a number of Mr Assange's high-profile supporters gathered outside City of Westminster Magistrates' Court for the bail hearing on Tuesday.

In his first appearance at court last week, Mr Assange was refused bail on the grounds he could flee - despite the offer of sureties from figures such as film director Ken Loach.

Mr Assange's other supporters include human rights campaigners Bianca Jagger, Jemima Khan and Peter Tatchell, and journalists Yvonne Ridley and John Pilger.

Mr Assange is accused of having unprotected sex with a woman, identified only as Miss A, when she insisted he use a condom.

He is also accused of having unprotected sex with another woman, Miss W, while she was asleep.

The extradition case is due to return to the magistrates' court on 11 January.

In recent weeks, Wikileaks has published a series of US diplomatic cables revealing confidential information on subjects such as terrorism and international relations.

These have been detailed in the Guardian in the UK, and several other newspapers around the world.

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