Tuesday, December 14, 2010

British judge grants bail to Assange

Image: Julian Assange supporters hold a demonstration in London
Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, some wearing masks depicting him and holding placards participate at a demonstration outside the Swedish Embassy in central London on Monday. Assange remains in custody in the U.K. ahead of a Dec. 14 hearing where he plans to fight Sweden's request to extradite him to face sex crimes allegations there. Marianne Ny, named on poster, is the Swedish Director of Public Prosecution.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services NBC, msnbc.com and news services.

updated 15 minutes ago 2010-12-14T15:29:15
breaking news

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrested in Britain on Swedish allegations of sex crimes, was granted bail Thursday by a British judge.

Assange appeared in a packed central London courtroom on Tuesday to fight his extradition to Sweden in a sex-crimes investigation.

Assange supporters rallied in an effort to prove to the judge that the controversial activist would not flee the U.K. if granted bail.

Vaughn Smith, the director of the Frontline Club journalism organization which had been housing Assange before his arrest, offered the court assurances that the WikiLeaks founder could stay at his 10-bedroom estate, which he said is within one mile of a police station, NBC News' Peter Alexander tweeted from the courtroom.

Timeline: WikiLeaks timeline (on this page)

Smith and others also offered to put up money for bail, and Assange’s attorney Geoffrey Robertson said authorities could place an electronic tag on his client for tracking purposes, other reporters posting to Twitter from inside the courtroom said.

Assange, wearing a dark suit with a white shirt, appeared more ashen that he did at this last appearance, the reporters said.

The 39-year-old Australian was ordered to prison by a judge at a hearing Dec. 7 after surrendering himself to Scotland Yard to answer a Swedish arrest warrant.

Assange is wanted for questioning after two women accused him of sexual misconduct in separate encounters in Sweden over the summer. Lawyers for Assange say he denies the allegations and will contest the attempt to extradite him for questioning.

The disclosures, which have continued unaffected since Assange was detained in prison, have offended some U.S. allies and angered its rivals. Officials in Washington claim some other countries have already curtailed their dealings with the U.S. government as a result.

Earlier, Assange spoke from his prison cell to defend himself and attack the financial companies that suspended payments to his controversial website, Australian television reported Tuesday.

Assange told his mother that he remained committed to publishing some 250,000 pages of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, despite condemnation from Washington and elsewhere.

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Australia's Network Seven asked Christine Assange to ask her son one question during a visit to his London jail: Was it worth it?

"My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have expressed. This circumstance shall not shake them," said Assange, according to his mother who supplied the network with a written statement of her son's answer.

"If anything this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct."

'Illegal and immoral attacks'

In his statement from jail, Assange was also critical of the major finance companies who suspended payments to his WikiLeaks site, saying, "We now know that Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and others are instruments of U.S. foreign policy. It's not something we knew before."

"I am calling for the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks," he said.

Some of Assange's supporters suspect the extradition request has been motivated by WikiLeaks' decision last month to begin publishing its trove of the secret U.S. diplomatic cables, something Swedish officials have denied.

The U.S. Justice Department has been looking into a range of criminal charges, including violations of the 1917 Espionage Act, that could be filed in the WikiLeaks case.

Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that U.S. prosecutors may be preparing to indict him for espionage after WikiLeaks' publication of the cables.

Swedish charges

At an hour-long court hearing last week, lawyer Gemma Lindfield — acting for Swedish police — said Assange is accused of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion.

She told the court one woman had accused Assange of pinning her down and refusing to use a condom during an encounter on Aug. 14 in Stockholm. That woman also accused of Assange of molesting her in a way "designed to violate her sexual integrity" several days later.

A second woman has accused Assange of having sex with her without a condom while he was a guest at her Stockholm home and she was asleep.

In Sweden, a person who has sex with an unconscious, drunk or sleeping person can be convicted of rape and sentenced to up to six years in prison.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, arrested in Britain on Swedish allegations of sex crimes, was granted bail Thursday by a British judge. Full story

Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, claims the courts are stacked against defendants in sex cases in Sweden.

However, a 2009 European Commission-funded study found only 10 percent of sex offenses reported in Sweden result in a conviction.

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