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Sweden appeal keeps Assange in prison

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won bail from a British court Tuesday over sex crimes claims but must stay in jail for at least another night after Swedish prosecutors appealed against the decision.

Sweden appeal keeps Assange in prison

Lawyer Gemma Lindfield told City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court that Swedish prosecutors intended to challenge the bail order.

The appeal is expected to take place within 48 hours.

In a chaotic 30 minutes outside the court, Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens had earlier wrongly told reporters that Sweden would not appeal the granting of bail for the Australian who founded the whistleblowing website.

The 39-year-old Australian had given a thumbs-up to the packed courtroom in London as the judge granted him conditional bail, one week after being arrested at the request of Swedish authorities.

But two hours later, lawyers for Swedish prosecutors announced that they would appeal the ruling, meaning the case will now go to Britain’s high court and a new hearing must be heard within 48 hours.

Until that time Assange, who denies the allegations, 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.

“They clearly will not spare any expense to keep Mr Assange in jail.”

District judge Howard Riddle had earlier granted bail worth £240,000 ($378,000) 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 told City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Celebrity supporters in court included socialite and campaigner Bianca Jagger, while US filmmaker Michael Moore offered to put up bail. Assange’s mother Christine had flown in from Australia and was also in court.

The announcement of bail 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.

Another member of the legal team, high-profile human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, earlier told the court that the rape and molestation allegations 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.

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.

His next appearance at the court is on January 11, with a full extradition hearing set for February 7 to 8.

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, 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, in a statement from prison he dictated to his mother.

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.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Sweden must demand that Julian Assange go free

Given Sweden’s involvement in the Assange case, the government’s continued silence over his impending extradition to the US is indefensible, says David Crouch

OPINION: Sweden must demand that Julian Assange go free

I have no personal fondness for Julian Assange. I cannot forgive him for not condemning the torrent of abuse and slander suffered by the two Swedish women who, in 2010, accused him of sexual assault. His treatment of them has been shameful. Assange has continued to protest his innocence and has not expressed any regret for what happened

But that was then and this is now. At stake is something much bigger than the fate of one man and two women. And the Swedish government bears a clear share of responsibility for the outcome. 

Sweden’s prosecutors dropped the sexual assault investigation against Assange in 2017. For more than three years, he has been held in a maximum security prison in London while he has fought extradition to the United States on espionage charges. In April, a British court finally approved the extradition and referred the matter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. 

Today (June 17), Patel gave the green light for extradition; Assange has 14 days to appeal. 

Extradition would be a colossal blow against media freedom. Journalists would fear to investigate US military and surveillance operations around the world. Assange himself faces a lifetime in jail for publishing classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including evidence of war crimes

Many Swedish free speech organisations recognise this. “The information obtained thanks to Julian Assange and Wikileaks is of great public interest. In a democracy, whistleblowers must be protected, not taken to court to become pawns in a political game,” says the Swedish Journalists’ Association. A large number of press freedom and human right organisations have echoed these words, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship, to name but a few.

“Should Assange be extradited to the US, it could have serious consequences for investigative journalism,” says the Swedish branch of Reporters without Borders. “Through the indictment of Assange, the US is also sending a signal to all journalists who want to examine the actions of the US military and security services abroad, or US arms deals for that matter. This also applies to Swedish journalists.”

Last month, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, called on Patel not to extradite Assange, saying it would have “a chilling effect on media freedom”.  Anna Ardin, one of the women who brought the original accusations of sexual assault, describes the accusations against Assange for espionage as “helt galet” (completely crazy). 

Given Sweden’s involvement in the Assange case, the continued silence from Rosenbad, the seat of government offices in Stockholm, is indefensible. 

For the seven years in which Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, he said consistently and repeatedly that he was prepared to face justice in Sweden, but feared extradition to the United States and therefore required a guarantee that this would not happen. His treatment in the UK is proof that his fears were justified. 

As early as September 2012, The Local quoted Amnesty International on this matter: “If the Swedish authorities are able to confirm publicly that Assange will not eventually find himself on a plane to the USA if he submits himself to the authority of the Swedish courts then this will … it will break the current impasse and second it will mean the women who have levelled accusations of sexual assault are not denied justice.”

And yet, throughout, Sweden’s Ministry of Justice kept quiet. Instead, the Swedish Prosecution Authority stated repeatedly: “Every extradition case is to be judged on its own individual merits. For that reason the Swedish government cannot provide a guarantee in advance that Julian Assange would not be subject to further extradition to the USA.”

In 2016, a United Nations panel decided that Sweden had violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It called on the Swedish authorities to end Assange’s “deprivation of liberty”, respect his freedom of movement and offer him compensation. Again, the government itself remained silent, although Sweden’s director-general for legal affairs said that it disagreed with the panel.

Freedom of speech is one of the four “fundamental laws” that make up the Swedish constitution. There can be no excuse now for Morgan Johansson, Justice Minister, not to speak out in defence of Assange’s role as a whistleblower and journalist. 

Imagine if Assange had revealed Russian war crimes in Ukraine and was being held in Moscow’s high security prison? Every Western leader would be up in arms. 

Assange’s wife Stella Moris has Swedish citizenship. Her life, and that of their two children, will be destroyed if her husband, their father, is sent to rot in a US jail.

At this point in time, when Sweden’s independence in global affairs is in doubt owing to pressure from Turkey over its application to join Nato, it is even more vital for the government to break its silence and help bring the persecution of Julian Assange to an end. 

David Crouch covered Julian Assange’s campaign in the Swedish courts for The Guardian newspaper and is among 1900 journalists to have signed a statement in his defence. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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