by Chiranjibi Paudyal
AR London Correspondent
December 14, 2010
WIKILEAKS FOUNDER IS FREED UNTIL JAN. 11 ON $376,000 BAIL
LONDON, Dec. 16, 2010 -- Julian Assange, who exposed thousands of stolen U.S. diplomatic notes over the past last few weeks as founder of the controversial file-sharing site WikiLeaks, won his freedom on sex -related allegations from a London-area prison this morning - at least until a Jan. 11, 2011 hearing - after Justice Duncan B.W. Ouseley of Britain's High Court noted Assange turned himself in when he learned Swedish authorities sought to question him.
"That is not the conduct of a person who is seeking to evade justice," Justice Ouseley said, and granted him bail until the Jan. 11 hearing on the allegations, for which Sweden seeks to have him extradited for questioning. No charges have been preferred against Assange as of this time.
The sex crime allegations - revolving around consensual sex without a condom - in Sweden were brought by a sebior prosecutor after one prosecutor ordered them dismissed earlier this year. That has raised questions about whether the renewed interest in charges Assange failed to use a condom in Sweden during consensual encounters with two women, including while one was asleep, were encouraged by the United States.
Reportedly, the U.S. Justice Dept., under Atty. General Eric Holder, is conducting a secret grand jury proceeding in Virginia that may soon lead to an indictment and a U.S. request for Assange's extradition from Sweden, if Assange is ever sent there.
The terms of the bail decision made Tuesday by Judge Howard Riddle in the City of Westminster magistrates court in London include a cash guarantee of £240,000 and other conditions. Assange will have to observe a nightly curfew, surrender his Australian passport and report daily to police until he returns to court on January 11, 2011.
Until now, he has remained in solitary confinement in an 8'x9' cell at the old, high-walled Wandsworth prison in London's suburbs as Swedish prosecutors appealed the magistrate's decision to grant bail. At that hearin, his mother, Christine Assange, was in the courtroom Tuesday, said she was "very, very happy" with the decision but disappointed by the two-day delay.
Assange was arrested Dec. 8 after turning himself into police in London. He reportedly was staying with friends outside the city.
Under the terms of the bail affirmed by Justice Ouseley today, Assange will stay under "mansion arrest" at the home of journalist Vaughan Smith, a journalist and former British military officer who was founder of The Frontline Club and whose home is in Suffolk, England, about two hours from London. Assange would be required to wear an electronic tracking device and be at the home at least four hours each day and four hours each night.
Assange's supporters included American filmmaker Michael Moore and British rocker Mick Jagger's ex-wife, Bianca Jagger. At current rates of exchange, the bail is approximately $365,000, including two "sureties" amounting to about $40,000.
Though his supporters say his Dec. 8 arrest was politically motivated and that Swedish officials are responding to pressure from the United States, the case has nothing to do with WikiLeaks. Assange is accused of having unprotected sex with two woman in Sweden when at least one of them insisted he use a condom.
Hundreds of noisy, enthusiastic supporters from around the globe gathered outside the court today and last Tuesday to express their solidarity with Assange, a tall, slim, 39-year-old Australian with blond hair and a quiet, diffident manner. The protestors cheered lustily again today when the decision to grant bail was announced.
Assange has said he is determined to continue releasing secret documents, and despite being in a British jail his site continued to do so.
In the meantime, a new site called OpenLeaks created by a former WikiLeaks deputy editor named Daniel Domscheit-Berg will begin releasing some of the State Department cables soon, causing new consternation in diplomatic circles throughout the world.
The site is not open yet, but the founder says it will differ in style from WikiLeaks by not trying to verify or publish the leaks, but instead allow NGOs, unions, news media and others to download and publish them. Organizations that download the material will have to decide what to publish and whether to edit any information in the cables, the group's leaders told UPI.
It is not known whether the OpenLeaks groups has an independent body of secrets or has commandeereded those WikiLeaks has begun to publish. They apparently will also try to acquire new secrets to release.
The WikiLeaks cables were shared by Assange with five major newspapers, including the New York Times, El Pais (of Spain), Le Monde (of Paris) and Germany's Der Speigel, and the British progressive daily The Guardian.
The circumstances of the WikiLeaks file-sharing - with the New York Times cache supplied to it by The Guardian rather than directly - include consultation among the five news organizations with each other and government officials on how the cables may need to be be edited to protect legitimately secret information concerning informants, sources and intelligence methods. Any new releases by OpenLeaks will not observe those arrangements, it appears, but allow others to do so if they wish.
The U.S. Air Force, in a move not backed by the Dept. of Defense, blocked access to at least 25 websites that have published complete versions of any of the diplomatic cables Assange released. It is not clear if The American Reporter is on that list, as no complete listing of the blocked sites was made available by the Air Force. Typically, several hundred military sites visit this page weekly.
The cables have revealed some significant and occasionally highly-sensitive information, including a hotly-debated message from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directing American diplomatic outposts to make an effort to obtain vital statistics from the world's diplomats; others told of a U.S. decision to defend the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the event of a Russian attack, and of China's apparent willingness to permit reunification of the Korean peninsula with U.S. assurances that the United States will not position troops north of the 37th Parallel.
Local media reports today quoted Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, as saying that Assange had not been given any of his mail - including legal letters - since being remanded to custody.
In jail. his lawyer complained at Tuesday's hearing, "He has absolutely no access to any electronic equipment, no access to the outside world, no access to outside media," he said. The BBC quoted Stephens as saying the only correspondence his client had received was a note telling him that a copy of Time magazine sent to him had been destroyed because the cover bore his photograph. Assange was athe third choice of TIME's editor's as Man of the Year, and was favored over other candidates by its readers in a TIME poll. The magazine chose another website founder instead.
"[Assange] believes in British justice system. That is why he is here in the United Kingdom," his lawyer said.
Christine Assange, his mother, told reporters "I told him how people all over the out for his freedom and justice, and he was very heartened by that," she said. "As a mother, I'm asking the world to stand up for my brave son."
In a statement read aloud by his mother on Australian television, she said. "His convictions are are unfaltering."
His mother quoted Assange Tuesday as saying "These circumstances shall not shake us. If anything, this process has increased my determination that [his beliefs with respect to releasing the cables] are true and correct."
Touching on another controversy, the recent attacks on corporations that formerly had done business with WikiLeaks, his mother quoted Assange as saying, "We now know that Visa, Mastercard and PayPal are instruments of U.S. foreign policy," he said in the statement read by Ms Assange on Australia's Channel 7. "I am calling on the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral acts."
Among journalists, the case has raised questions about what limitations, if any, should be placed upon the release of secret information by journalists. Those questions are not likely to be answered in coming weeks.
Correction: Due to an error by the editor of this story, earlier reporting on it suggested that a senior prosecutor in Sweden had dropped serious charges against Mr. Assange and that they were then taken up again by a junior prosecutor. In fact, the order of prosecutorial action was exactly the reverse.
AR London Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal, formerly based in Kathmandu, Nepal, has contributed to the American Reporter since 1999, when he visited our United States offices as a Fellow of the U.S. Information Agency's Visiting Journalists program..