London’s High Court upheld a decision on Thursday to free on bail WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.
Assange, the target of US fury over WikiLeaks’ release of secret diplomatic cables, denies allegations of sexual misconduct made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers.
High Court Justice Duncan Ouseley ruled that the 39-year-old Australian could be released on bail of £200,000 pounds and made slight changes to several bail conditions set by a lower court judge on Tuesday.
“He clearly does have some desire to clear his name because, if he were not to do so, the allegations would always be hanging over him,” Ouseley said.
British prosecutors had gone to the High Court to appeal against the lower court’s decision to grant bail.
Photographers caught Assange giving a defiant victory sign from within the police van taking him to court on Thursday. He sat in the dock listening to proceedings from behind ornate metal bars.
WikiLeaks has infuriated the US authorities by publishing part of a trove of 250,000 US diplomatic cables, including details of overseas sites that Washington regards as vital to its security. It was expected that Assange would leave custody late on Thursday after his lawyer Mark Stephens said the 200,000 pound cash surety had been raised by supporters.
Other bail conditions stipulate that Assange must stay at a country house in eastern England owned by a wealthy supporter, report to police daily, and wear an electronic tag.
Ouseley made three changes to the bail conditions, including the hours of the curfew Assange will be subject to, the boundaries of the area where he must stay, and adjustments to the hours during which he must report to police every day.
Prosecution lawyer Gemma Lindfield said the nature of the alleged offences provided strong incentive for him to abscond. She said he had no community ties in Britain, and that many of his supporters were fighting a cause and might welcome him absconding.
Defence lawyer Geoffrey Robertson rejected the concerns.
“He has always been available. He was never in hiding. The suggestions that have been made before you ... are sheer speculation,” he told the court.
There was confusion over whether Britain or Sweden had been behind the bid to deny him bail. A full extradition hearing is expected in early February.
Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that US prosecutors might be preparing to indict him for espionage over WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents.
Conspiracy case in US?
The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors were looking for evidence that Assange had conspired with a former US Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking classified documents in order to bring charges against him.
Internet activists have tried to sabotage the websites of organisations they believe have obstructed WikiLeaks, including Visa, MasterCard and the Swedish prosecutor’s office.