WikiLeaks founder Assange back in UK jail as bail challenged

Assange, a target of U.S. ire for releasing secret cables, returned to a London jail pending an appeal over a decision to free him.

WikiLeaks founder Assange back in UK jail as bail challenged

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a target of U.S. ire for releasing secret cables, returned to a London jail on Tuesday pending an appeal over a decision to free him on 200,000 pound ($317,400) bail for alleged sex crimes.

British judge Howard Riddle had initially granted Assange bail but prosecutors, representing Swedish authorities, challenged the decision before the 39-year-old Australian had left the court in central London.

"An appeal will be held within the next 48 hours and you will remain in custody," the judge told Assange, who nodded and said, "I understand," before being led from the dock by security guards.

Assange, who has spent a week in solitary confinement in London's Wandsworth prison, is fighting attempts to extradite him to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers, accusations he denies. An extradition hearing is set for Jan. 11.

Mark Stephens, a lawyer for Assange, accused Swedish authorities of persecuting him. "This is really turning into a show trial," he told reporters.

He called Assange "an innocent man sitting in Dickensian conditions, Victorian conditions in Wandsworth jail".

Assange and his lawyers have voiced fear that U.S. prosecutors may be preparing to indict him for espionage over WikiLeaks' publication of the U.S. diplomatic documents.

"Cash issue"

Judge Riddle had earlier ruled that, pending the extradition hearing, Assange could be freed under strict conditions including electronic tagging and a curfew. He would have had to report to police daily and post a 200,000 pound bond.

Stephens said that raising the cash could further delay Assange's release despite backing from figures including U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore, Australian journalist John Pilger, and Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan.

"There is a problem because he's been granted bail on condition that 200,000 pounds cash is paid into this court here and that's an awful lot of money," he said.

"It's a pity that he can't use Mastercard or Visa in order to assist him to arrange that," Stephens added in a swipe at two credit card companies targeted by activists for blocking donations to WikiLeaks.

Riddle denied Assange bail a week ago on grounds he might abscond but said he had changed his mind because Assange had provided a British address and because discrepancies over his passport and right to stay in Britain had now been resolved.

Assange, wearing a navy suit and open-necked white shirt, spoke only to confirm his name, age and address.

He sat impassively behind tall panels of thickened glass during the initial hearing, which lasted a little over an hour.

One of the main conditions of his bail is that he lives at Ellingham Hall, a country mansion in the county of Suffolk in eastern England that is the home of a former army officer and Assange supporter, Vaughan Smith.

Two of Assange's backers took the witness stand to offer 20,000 pounds each to act as a surety.

Smith called him as a "very honourable person, hugely courageous, self-deprecatory and warm."

Agencies

Last Mod: 15 Aralık 2010, 11:06
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