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British Judge Grants Bail To WikiLeaks Founder Assange


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen through the heavily tinted windows of a police vehicle as he arrives at Westminster magistrates court in London on December 14.
Julian Assange, the controversial founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-blower website, has been ordered freed from a London jail on bail with strict conditions.

But he remained in custody after Swedish authorities filed an appeal against the decision and were said to be pressing the British court to extradite Assange to Sweden.

Authorities said London's High Court would hear that appeal on December 16.

On December 14, Judge Howard Riddle granted Assange bail in the amount of about $315,000, with an additional guarantee of $63,000.

Under the conditions of the bail deal, Assange must wear an electronic tag, live at a registered address, report to the police every evening, and observe two four-hour curfews each day.

Assange had been denied a request for bail last week amid fears that he would try to flee the country. In reversing that decision, the judge also ordered that Assange's passport remain with the police.

One of Assange's lawyers, Mark Stephens, told reporters after the bail hearing that his client would follow the "difficult" conditions of his bail.

"Any reasonable person who was sitting in the court today will understand that the onerous conditions that have been placed on Mr. Assange's freedom today are the sorts of conditions that are going to be difficult enough to abide by and there is absolutely no fear that he will not abide by those conditions," Stephens said.

Stephens also said that Assange's release would be delayed until his supporters, including a number of high-profile celebrities and activists, could present the bail money to the court in cash.

Cash payment was required by the judge in place of a mere pledge to meet the bail payment, which is usually permissible.

Stephens also said the case against Assange was turning into a "show trial."

'For Press Freedom'

The 39-year-old Australian turned himself in to authorities on December 7 in connection with an arrest warrant issued by Sweden, where he is wanted for alleged sex crimes. He denies the charges, and his lawyer has said the case has "political" motivations.

An Australian newspaper, the "Sunshine Coast News," reported that Assange's mother had flown into London to be with her son.

The newspaper said that in speaking to his mother by phone, Assange said: "My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have always expressed. These circumstances shall not shake them."

Another Assange lawyer, high-profile human rights advocate Geoffrey Robertson, said Vaughn Smith, the manager of London's Frontline Club for journalists, had offered to let Assange stay at his country estate in southern England.

Smith said his interest in helping Assange was tied to his belief in a free press.

"I think as journalists we should be very concerned about the possibility of legislation that will, perhaps, restrict our freedoms to operate as journalists," Smith said.

"I think Mr. Assange has put up a very large mirror in front of journalists and many journalists I speak to are very concerned by the reflection they see in an industry or trade that is, perhaps, looking more close to power than a lot of us would like to become."

U.S. Mulls Charges

The WikiLeaks founder, who has caused an international diplomatic stir for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. cables on everything from the war in Afghanistan to Russia's leadership, has held for a week in London's Wandsworth prison.

The U.S. Justice Department has been looking into a range of criminal charges that could be filed in the WikiLeaks case, but has denied accusations by Assange's lawyers that the Swedish warrant was issued under U.S. pressure.

Officials from the United States, Britain, and other countries have accused WikiLeaks of endangering the security of troops and government officials as well as national security.

In recent weeks, a string of U.S.-based companies -- including the credit-card companies Visa and MasterCard, as well as, and PayPal -- cut ties to WikiLeaks amid intense U.S. government pressure.

The Swiss post office banking service, PostFinance, said last week that its website was suffering denial of service attacks since it closed Assange's bank account.

compiled from agency reports