WikiLeaks' Assange Wins Bail But Isn't Free Yet

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, shown at an October news conference in London, is facing extradition to Sweden and possible charges in the United States. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A British court granted bail Tuesday to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who will nevertheless remain in custody for at least two more days pending the outcome of an appeal.

Assange has spent a week in prison awaiting possible extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sex-crimes investigation. Judge Howard Riddle said he must remain behind bars until Britain's High Court hears the appeal within 48 hours.

Riddle, who had set bail around $380,000, is the same judge who denied bail last week after Assange surrendered to Scotland Yard, calling him a flight risk who had no fixed address. This time around, a former army captain offered his 600-acre country estate as a bail address.

Gemma Lindfield, who represented Swedish authorities, had argued that the allegations against Assange were serious and that he has weak ties to Britain and "the means and ability to abscond." She later announced the decision to appeal.

Even if the 39-year-old Australian is released from London's Wandsworth Prison, he must abide by strict conditions. He will be required to wear an electronic tag, live at an address registered with the authorities, report to the police daily and observe two four-hour curfews each day.

A number of international figures, including filmmaker Ken Loach and socialite Jemima Khan, collectively offered to post bond, Assange's lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, told the hearing in London.

Robertson, a former appeals judge at the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone who specializes in freedom of speech cases, has also represented such high-profile clients as author Salman Rushdie.

Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion stemming from separate encounters with two women over the summer.

Assange and his lawyers have denied the allegations and plan to fight attempts to extradite him to Sweden for questioning. They say the accusations are political, stemming from WikiLeaks' release of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

A decision on whether to extradite Assange is expected to take several weeks. Both he and the Swedish government are entitled to appeal the ruling if the judge rules against them.

Assange's next scheduled court appearance was set for Jan. 11, ahead of a full hearing on Feb. 7 and 8.

His Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, says the courts are stacked against defendants in sex cases in Sweden. However, a 2009 European Commission-funded study found only 10 percent of sex offenses reported in Sweden result in a conviction.

Supporters outside City of Westminster Magistrates' Court erupted in cheers when they heard news of Tuesday's ruling.

Assange's mother, who was flown to Britain by Australian media outlets, watched the hearing nervously from the public gallery, but gave a huge smile as the judge announced his decision.

"I just want to thank everyone who's turned up to show their support and who's taken an interest," Christine Assange said.

For his part, Assange remains defiant. Australia's Seven network said Christine Assange spoke to her son for 10 minutes and asked him, at the network's request, whether it had been worth it.

"My convictions are unfaltering," the network quoted Julian Assange as saying. "I remain true to the ideals I have expressed. This circumstance shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct."

In Sweden's capital, Stockholm, many people said they admire what WikiLeaks has done in the name of transparency and accountability. Yet they also balked at the suggestion that Sweden is part of an elaborate plot against Assange.

Anna Lunden, who was part of a crowd milling through Stockholm's old city Monday night, said she thinks Assange should come to Sweden to face his accusers. "Why should he not be guilty because he's famous?" she said. "I mean, bigger men that him have been using women."

Mark Stephens, part of Assange's legal team, said earlier that his client was getting by but not without difficulty. Assange has been placed in solitary confinement in Wandsworth Prison, one of the biggest prisons in Europe.

"Julian is a sort of a bit lost without his computer, although the prison authorities said that they will give him an Internet-disabled computer in due course," Stephens said. "And he's finding it very boring because he hates British daytime television."

Britain's national security adviser said Monday that U.K. government websites could be attacked in retribution if Assange is not released. Online "hacktivists" have already launched cyber attacks on companies that cut ties to WikiLeaks, including MasterCard, Visa and PayPal.

Assange called those companies "instruments of U.S. foreign policy" in his statement Tuesday. "I am calling on the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks," he was quoted as saying.

The WikiLeaks disclosures, which have continued during Assange's incarceration, have deeply angered U.S. officials, who claim that other countries have already curtailed their dealings with the U.S. government as a result.

Larry Miller and NPR's Philip Reeves contributed to this story, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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