WikiLeaks founder ordered freed as court rejects appeal

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LONDON, Dec 16: The High Court in London granted bail on Thursday to Julian Assange, the founder of the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, while he fights extradition to Sweden on a warrant connected with alleged sex offenses.
But Judge Duncan Ounsley added more restrictive bail conditions to those imposed by a lower court two days ago, when the prosecutors filed an appeal and said Mr. Assange was a flight risk.
It was not immediately clear when he would be released from jail. Mr. Assange’s British lawyer, Mark Stephens, told reporters that if the formalities relating to his client’s release were not completed within the next few hours, Mr. Assange would return to Wandsworth prison in south-west London and be freed from there later.
In dismissing the appeal by prosecutors, Judge Ounsley said he accepted arguments by the prosecution that many of those who were posting bail for Mr. Assange were doing so because they supported WikiLeaks and might regard “absconding as a right and justified act” to keep the beleaguered Web site running.
Dressed in a white shirt open at the collar and a dark suit, Mr. Assange sat with legs crossed through the two-hour hearing in the High Court, which is near the London theater district. He reacted impassively when the Judge Ounsley pronounced his ruling.
Bail of $315,000 was granted by the lower court on Tuesday after a friend of Mr. Assange offered to allow him to stay at a mansion in Suffolk, an hour’s drive from London in eastern England.
According to the bail conditions set by the lower court, Mr. Assange must spend every night at the mansion, Ellingham Hall, a 10-bedroom Georgian home on a 650-acre estate owned by Vaughan Smith, the wealthy founder of the Frontline journalists’ club in London.
The conditions include a curfew, daily visits to the police and electronic tagging to enable the police to track his movements.
On Thursday, Judge Ounsley said that in addition, Mr. Assange would be restricted to a small area around Ellingham Hall rather than be given free access to the entire estate. The judge also sought additional financial guarantees from at least two of Mr. Assange’s closest associates, Sarah Harrison and Joseph Farrell. The newest demands for bail and sureties brought the total to $370,000.
Geoffrey Robertson, one of Britain’s most prominent lawyers, who is assisting Mr. Assange’s defense team, joked on Thursday that during his stay at Ellingham Hall, Mr. Assange would also be under the scrutiny of the estate’s gamekeepers.
The hearing on Thursday was formally separate from Mr. Assange’s role in the publication of some 250,000 American diplomatic documents and came as federal prosecutors in Washington looked for evidence that would enable them to charge him with helping an Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking the information.
The American prosecutors believe that if he did so, they could charge him as a conspirator rather than a passive recipient of the documents.
Mr. Assange’s court appearance in London is related to allegations of sexual misconduct on three occasions with two young Swedish women in Stockholm last August, something he denies. Swedish prosecutors say they want him to be returned to their country to question him in connection with accusations that he broke Swedish rape and other laws.
Mr. Assange has said the encounters were consensual but his accusers say they ceased to be consensual when a condom was not being used.
The Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday that the appeal against bail was initiated by British prosecutors, not their Swedish counterparts, who said they had “not got a view at all on bail.”
The case has become bitterly divisive among supporters and critics of Mr. Assange — and the focus of much attention by news media outlets around the world. Scores of reporters, photographers and camera crews gathered outside the High Court as Mr. Assange arrived in a white armored prison services truck to take his place in an ornate dock in Courtroom 4.
His incarceration has not ended the flow of classified American cables, mostly between American diplomats abroad and the State Department in Washington. Earlier, WikiLeaks published confidential American material relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents were made available to newspapers including The New York Times.
The New York Times
 

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