Assange remains in London jail as bail decision challenged

14th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was set for another night in a British jail Tuesday after he first won bail but prosecutors then said they would appeal the decision.

Assange, who denies allegations of sex crimes in Sweden, had given a thumbs-up to the packed courtroom as the judge granted him conditional bail, one week after being arrested at the request of Swedish authorities.

But hours later, lawyers were called back to court to hear Gemma Lindfield, representing the Swedish prosecutors, announce they would appeal the decision.

A new hearing will be held within 48 hours -- until that time the 39-year-old Australian must stay in his cell at Wandsworth prison in London.

"This is really turning into a show trial," Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens told reporters after hearing the Swedish decision.

"It's an unfortunate state of affairs given that we were obviously very relieved for Mr Assange a few hours ago. Given their history of persecution of Mr. Assange it's perhaps not suprising."

District judge Howard Riddle had earlier granted bail worth 240,000 pounds (378,000 dollars, 283,000 euros) but ordered that Assange wear an electronic tag, abide by a curfew and live at the country estate of a supporter.

"I am satisfied that the conditions I am going to impose will make it certain as far as the risk of flight is concerned," Riddle said.

The announcement prompted cheers from about 20 supporters who had staged a protest in support of Assange outside court, but the response became muted as it emerged that he would not yet be free.

Even if Sweden had not appealed, Stephens said the court had demanded that those standing bail for Assange come up with 200,000 pounds in cash before he could be freed -- and this was unlikely to be raised immediately.

Stephens said maverick US film director Michael Moore and socialite and campaigner Bianca Jagger had offered to put up the bail.

Another member of the legal team, high-profile human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, earlier told the court that the allegations of rape and molestation made against his client by two Swedish women should not be taken seriously.

"It was very clear this is not an extremely serious offence. It is arguably not even a rape offence," Robertson said.

He added that Assange was being held in "Victorian" conditions in prison and was being detained in solitary confinement and allowed just one visit per week.

Assange was arrested on December 7 after giving himself up to police acting on an extradition warrant from Sweden.

His legal team has condemned the claims as politically motivated, noting their timing coincided with WikiLeaks' release of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables which have touched off a global storm.

But Swedish prosecutors insist their investigation is based on law.

Wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, Assange spoke in court Tuesday only to confirm his name, date of birth and address in Victoria, Australia.

Earlier, Assange blasted three global giants which have stopped money being sent to his website -- credit card companies Visa and MasterCard and the Internet payment firm PayPal -- and accused them of being US puppets.

PayPal has said its decision to restrict the WikiLeaks account was not the result of any US pressure.

The three firms have been attacked by computer hackers for their stance.

In a statement to Australia's Channel 7, dictated by his mother Christine Assange, he also said WikiLeaks would not stop releasing the data, which has included candid reflections from US diplomats of world leaders and global events.

"My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have expressed," Assange said. "These circumstances shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct."

Christine Assange, who was in court Tuesday, obtained the statement during a ten-minute telephone conversation with her son.

US President Barack Obama has led worldwide condemnation of the leaks, dubbing them "deplorable", and Washington is pursuing a criminal investigation into how WikiLeaks obtained the information.

Lawyer Stephens said in an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday that a secret US grand jury has been set up in Virginia to work on charges that could be filed against Assange over the leak.

© 2010 AFP

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