December 16, 2010Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblower website WikiLeaks, has been freed after spending nine days in solitary confinement in a London jail over a request from Sweden for his extradition.
Assange was released late on Thursday after a senior British judge ruled that he can be released on conditional bail following a week of legal drama.
“I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations,” he said in a brief statement on the steps of the high court in London.
Speaking outside the court he said it was “great to smell fresh air of London again”, and thanked “people around the world who have had faith in me, who have supported my team while I’ve been away”.
Swedish prosecutors had accused Assange, an Australian, of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion.
He will be taken to a country mansion where he will be subject to a curfew, an electronic tag to monitor his movements as well as being required to report to the police everyday.
The 10-bedroom Ellingham Hall, in Bungay, is owned by Vaughan Smith, a WikiLeaks supporter and founder of London’s Frontline Club for journalists.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri reporting from London said Assange had received a lot of help during his detention, particularly from influential and wealthy people who helped raise his bail money.
Our correspondent said his lawyers, supporters and he himself were now concerned as to whether there is something more to the sex-crime allegations than what has been presented so far.
“Many are asking why he was allowed to leave Sweden if the allegations were of a serious nature. Why this fast-tracking extradition process now? Is there something else going on? Is this part of a backdoor [arrangement] where the Americans have got special dealings with Sweden?”
Mark Stephens, Assange’s lawyer, said earlier they had raised the $316,000 bail money, put forward by a host of well-known figures including Jemima Khan, Bianca Jagger, film-maker Ken Loach and journalist John Pilger.
Assange has been held in Wandsworth prison in south London since December 7, when he was arrested on a European arrest warrant for questioning over alleged sex crimes in Sweden.
In a statement, Assange paid tribute to those who had helped secure his release.
“To my lawyers who have put up a brave, and ultimately, successful fight. To our sureties and people who have provided money in the face of great difficulty and adversity. And to members of the press who were not all taken in and considered to look deeper in their work,” he said.
Assange praised the British justice system “where justice is not always an outcome, at least it is not dead yet”, and reflected on the conditions of those held in solitary confinement and on remand around the world.
“Those people also need your attention and support and with that I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations,” he said.
Marianne Ny, the Swedish prosecutor, said the bail decision would not change the ongoing investigation in Sweden, and the extradition case would be handled by British authorities.
Initial reports suggested Swedish authorities had pushed to appeal Assange’s bail, but a report in the Guardian newspaper said it was British authorities who had made the move.
The Swedish prosecutor’s office told the paper it had “not got a view at all on bail”, saying the decision was made by the British prosecutor.
“I got it confirmed by the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] this morning that the decision to appeal the granting of bail was entirely a matter for the CPS,” Karin Rosander, director of communications for Sweden’s prosecutor’s office, told the Guardian.
“The Swedish prosecutors are not entitled to make decisions within Britain. It is entirely up to the British authorities to handle it.”
The CPS confirmed to Al Jazeera that it was up to the British prosecution to make the decision to appeal Assange’s bail, saying it was standard practice in an international case such as this.
Assange’s next extradition hearing is set for January 11.
Lawyer Gemma Lindfield, acting for the Swedish authorities, said Assange is accused of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion by two women for separate incidents in August.
Lindfield said one of the women had accused Assange of pinning her down and refusing to use a condom. A second woman says Assange had sex with her without a condom while he was a guest at her Stockholm home and she was asleep.
Assange, who has not been charged in Sweden, has denied any wrongdoing.
His lawyers say the allegations stem from a dispute over “consensual but unprotected sex” and argue that he has offered to make himself available for questioning via video link or in person in Britain.
Lindfield also rejected attempts to link Assange’s case with the work of WikiLeaks – which last month deeply angered US officials by beginning to publish its trove of 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables.
“This is not a case about WikiLeaks, rather a case about alleged serious offences against two women,” she added.
Assange said he did not “have too many fears” about being extradited to Sweden, but had greater concerns about the possibility of being brought to trial in the US for allegedly conspiring with a former US army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking classified documents.
“We have a rumour today from my lawyers in the United States, it’s not confirmed yet, that there has been an indictment made against me in the United States,” he said.