WikiLeaks' Assange to learn bail fate Thursday

15th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Julian Assange will find out on Thursday if he will be granted bail, court officials said, as his lawyer complained about lack of access to the founder of the WikiLeaks website.

A hearing at the High Court in London will determine if Assange will be allowed to leave Wandsworth prison after lawyers acting for Sweden challenged a British judge's order that he be freed under stringent conditions.

Sweden wants Britain to hand over Assange for questioning over allegations he sexually assaulted two women in Stockholm in August, but the 39-year-old Australian's supporters insist the process is politically motivated.

As Assange woke up to spend another day in prison, WikiLeaks continued to release US diplomatic cables, with one showing a former Thai prime minister accusing Queen Sirikit of being behind a 2006 coup that ousted his predecessor Thaksin Shinawatra.

In a highly charged court hearing on Tuesday, Assange was granted bail on condition he pays a security of 200,000 pounds (315,000 dollars, 235,000 euros) with an additional 40,000 pounds guaranteed in sureties.

A collection of celebrity supporters including maverick US film director Michael Moore, British director Ken Loach, campaigning socialite Bianca Jagger and journalist John Pilger have helped put up the money.

Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens said half of the cash required by the court had been collected.

Stephens dismissed suggestions that Assange would try to flee the country if released on bail.

"The suggestion that he is a flight risk is faintly ludicrous," he told BBC television.

He said the bail condition that Assange will have to wear an electronic tag would allow British authorities to locate him at all times.

But he complained that the prison continued to make it difficult for lawyers to meet Assange and prepare his legal case.

"I can't get access to him," he said. "I will not be able to take instructions from him."

He accused Sweden of failing to "abide by the umpire's decision" in appealing against the bail verdict.

Sweden will pursue its demand for extradition in court hearings next year.

If Assange is released on bail, he will have to reside at the country estate of Vaughan Smith, a former British army officer who founded the Frontline Club, a media club where WikiLeaks has based part of its operations.

Smith told BBC Radio that Assange was "very committed and courageous", but had been portrayed by some as "a Machiavellian, cold, string-puller".

"I've obviously taken a very public position to say I support him as an individual -- that's not to say that I agree with everything that is being leaked," he said.

"But certainly, as a person, I think it's very important he receives proper justice."

While Assange remains in prison, his organisation released more classified information which is believed to have been obtained from a US soldier who has since been arrested.

The latest cables Wednesday showed Samak Sundaravej, who was Thailand's prime minister for seven months in 2008, alleged that Queen Sirikit had been the driving force behind a 2006 military coup which ousted Thaksin.

Another cable revealed Washington's fears about the failure of west African governments to tackle increased drug trafficking.

Much of the concern focuses on Ghana, which sits at the centre of a new cocaine transit zone, according to cables published in The Guardian newspaper in Britain.

The release of the cables has enraged Washington, where some Republicans have called for Assange to be indicted for espionage.

© 2010 AFP

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