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JULIAN ASSANGE

Assange granted bail as court rejects appeal

London's High Court granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange bail Thursday after rejecting an appeal to keep him in jail while he fights extradition to Sweden to answer allegations of sex crimes.

Assange granted bail as court rejects appeal

The 39-year-old Australian was in court to hear the judge reject an appeal on behalf of Swedish prosecutors against a ruling Tuesday by a lower court that he be bailed.

“I am going to grant conditional bail,” judge Duncan Ouseley said.

He endorsed the stringent bail conditions imposed by the lower court, that Assange’s supporters must pay a £240,000 ($374,000) surety and he be subject to electronic tagging and a curfew.

The judge made a slight change to the arrangements for Assange to report regularly to police near a supporter’s country mansion in eastern England where he must stay.

Bail was also only granted on condition that 200,000 pounds in cash of the surety is made available to the court by the end of the day.

Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, earlier indicated that he would have the money in time.

Sweden wants Britain to extradite Assange for questioning over claims of rape and sexual molestation against two women in Stockholm in August, offences which he denies and which his lawyers argue are politically motivated.

They cite the timing of his arrest, which coincided with the release by the whistle-blowing website of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables that have caused huge embarrassment and anger in Washington.

Assange’s mother, Christine, and supporters including campaigning journalist John Pilger, had packed out the courtroom for the hour-and-a-half hearing along with hordes of journalists.

“I appreciate all the support,” Christine Assange told reporters afterwards.

Other supporters gathered in driving rain outside the Gothic court house shrieked with delight at news of the ruling and chanted “exposing war crimes is no crime”.

Hailing the judge’s decision, Pilger said it was “good news but it’s overdue” and suggested the wider issue was whether the US would also eventually seek Assange’s extradition.

“I think we should be looking in the long distance to the threat not just of extradition to Sweden but also of extradition to the US.

“That is the great unspoken issue in this court,” Pilger told journalists.

The judge rejected the assertion by British lawyers acting on behalf of Sweden that Assange was a flight risk.

“The court does not approach this case on the basis that this is a fugitive from justice who seeks to avoid interrogation and prosecution,” the judge said.

Another condition of bail was that Assange live at the country estate of Vaughan Smith, an ex-British army officer who founded the Frontline Club, a media club in London where WikiLeaks has based part of its operations.

He must stay there during the extradition proceedings, which may take months.

Speaking before the court hearing, Pilger said: “I hope he will be released — he should be, he is an innocent man until proven otherwise.”

Thailand’s royal family was the subject of the latest WikiLeaks revelations Thursday, as a memo from the US embassy in Bangkok showed top palace officials expressed concern about the prospect of the crown prince becoming king.

Three influential Thai figures, including two senior advisers to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, “had quite negative comments about Crown Prince (Maha) Vajiralongkorn,” said the memo dated January 2010.

Another leaked cable also revealed that an oil platform in Azerbaijan operated by BP suffered a well blowout and a huge gas leak around 18 months before the Gulf of Mexico spill.

US President Barack Obama has led worldwide condemnation of WikiLeaks, dubbing their actions as “deplorable”, and Washington is pursuing an investigation into how the website obtained the information.

But WikiLeaks and its founder have also won global support — hackers have attacked credit card and payment firms who restricted funds to the website, and more than 660,000 people have signed an online petition of support.

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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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