Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website that published secret U.S. documents, was granted bail by the U.K. judge overseeing his extradition fight with Sweden over allegations of rape and molestation.
Assange won the bail request after agreeing to post bail of 240,000 pounds ($378,480), turn in his passport and wear an electronic tag. He must remain in prison until U.K. prosecutors complete an appeal of the ruling on behalf of Sweden, Judge Howard Riddle ruled today in London.
Assange, 39, turned himself in to U.K. authorities after Swedish police issued a warrant on one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape. WikiLeaks gained prominence after it released U.S. military documents, including a video of a July 2007 helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters television cameraman and his driver.
“The appeal demonstrates that Sweden is persecuting Julian Assange,” said Mark Stephens, a lawyer for Assange. “They clearly won’t spare any expense to keep Mr. Assange in jail. Stephens regularly represents media organizations, including Bloomberg News.
Riddle had agreed to grant Assange bail on the condition that he stay at the home of Vaughan Smith, a friend who runs a club for journalists, for eight hours a day and report to police daily. Riddle had denied Assange’s bail request on Dec. 7, the day of his arrest.
“Last week, he didn’t have a verified address; this week he does,” said Riddle. “It has been dealt with comprehensively and entirely satisfactorily.”
Prosecutors said last week that some claims relate to whether Assange failed to use condoms during sex and may have exploited a woman while she was sleeping. The alleged crimes took place in Stockholm and Enkoeping, Sweden, while Assange was lecturing about the publication of classified U.S. military documents related to the war in Afghanistan.
“We doubt whether this actual category of rape would be rape under English law,” another Assange lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, said at today’s hearing.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Nov. 29 that the Justice Department was conducting an investigation into the release of the government documents, saying such leaks put lives at risk. About 200 protesters were outside court in London today, chanting “free Assange” and “stop the extradition.”
Stephens is trying to gather enough cash to post bail and free Assange from conditions that include being locked up 23.5 hours a day and being denied access to news or mail.
“The 200,000 pounds cash can’t be paid in by check,” Stephens said outside court. “We have to find cash and have it delivered to the court. Until then, we have an innocent man” sitting in jail, he said.
Gemma Lindfield, a lawyer for the U.K. government, had urged Riddle today to deny bail, saying that “nothing has changed in the last week.” She also said the case “isn’t about WikiLeaks.”
The arrest warrant was sought by prosecutor Marianne Ny, who started her investigation on Sept. 1 after a Stockholm-based prosecutor dropped the rape charge and reduced the molestation charges. A lawyer for the two alleged victims appealed that decision.
Stephens said his client has tried repeatedly to meet with the Swedish prosecutor when he was in Sweden and that she hasn’t directly provided evidence against him, such as text messages between the two alleged victims.
Stephens said the Swedish case may be politically motivated due to the WikiLeaks disclosures. Created in 2006, WikiLeaks receives confidential material and posts it online “so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth,” according to its website.