Assange fights UK bail appeal

WikiLeaks founder appears in London court as authorities challenge previous decision to grant him bail.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, in this November 4, 2010 file photo. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrested in Britain on Swedish allegations of sex crimes, was freed on bail by a British court on December 14, 2010. The 39-year-old Australian, whose website has provoked U.S. fury by publishing some of a trove of 250,000 classified U.S. diplomatic papers, was accused this year of sexual misconduct by two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers during a stay in Sweden. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud/Files
The conditions of Assange’s bail include a cash bond, two curfews and wearing an electronic tag [Reuters]

An English judge is to decide whether Julian Assange, founder of whistleblower website WikiLeaks, will be freed from custody, as authorities challenge a previous decision to grant him bail.

The 39-year-old Australian is appearing at the High Court in London, the British capital, on Thursday, two days after a magistrate’s court granted him release on the conditions he would wear an electronic tag, obey a curfew and provide $316,000 in cash.

Assange has been held in Wandsworth prison in south London since he was arrested over a week ago on a European arrest warrant for questioning over alleged sex crimes in Sweden.

Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera’s correspondent outside the court, said hundreds of people were queuing to gain access to the court hearing.

“There’s a lot of support here for Julian Assange.  If the judge decides he can be released then he could be coming out on the court steps and speaking to the media,” she said.

However his release could depend on whether the website founder is able to provide the full bail money requested by the court.

Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyer, said he was confident that he should have the money in cash by the end of the business day.

“We believe that we will have the money today. It appears to be in the banking system. We certainly have pledges from the people who stood behind him on previous occasions,” he said.

Court case confusion

Thursday’s hearing comes amid confusion over who has brought the appeal against his case.

Initial reports suggested Swedish authorities had pushed to appeal Assange’s bail, but a report in the Guardian newspaper said it was British authorities who had made the move.

The Swedish prosecutor’s office told the paper it had “not got a view at all on bail”, saying the decision was made by the British prosecutor.

“I got it confirmed by the CPS this morning that the decision to appeal the granting of bail was entirely a matter for the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).

“The Swedish prosecutors are not entitled to make decisions within Britain. It is entirely up to the British authorities to handle it,” Karin Rosander, director of communications for Sweden’s prosecutor’s office, told the Guardian.

The CPS confirmed to Al Jazeera that it was up to the British proseuction to make the decision to appeal Assange’s bail, and said it was standard practice in an international case such as this.

Assange has spent a week in prison following his surrender to British police over a Swedish sex-crimes warrant. He denies any wrongdoing but has refused to voluntarily surrender to Sweden’s request to extradite him for questioning.

Political claims rejected

Supporters of the Australian say the charges are trumped up, vindictive and possibly politically motivated.

Assange’s British lawyer, Mark Stephens, said on Wednesday that “somebody has it in for Julian Assange and we only can conjecture why.”

But lawyer Gemma Lindfield, acting for Sweden, told Tuesday’s hearing that Assange faced serious allegations and may abscond if granted bail.

Lindfield said that Assange is accused of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion by two women for separate incidents in August. She said one of the women had accused Assange of pinning her down and refusing to use a condom. A second woman says Assange had sex with her without a condom while he was a guest at her Stockholm home and she was asleep.

Assange has not been charged in Sweden. His lawyers say the allegations stem from a dispute over “consensual but unprotected sex” and argue that he has offered to make himself available for questioning via video link or in person in Britain.

Lindfield also rejected attempts to link Assange’s case with the work of WikiLeaks – which last month deeply angered US officials by beginning to publish its trove of 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables.

“This is not a case about WikiLeaks, rather a case about alleged serious offences against two women,” said Lindfield.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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