Bail decision day for Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will learn today whether he is to remain in prison into the new year as British prosecutors attempt to prevent him being released on bail.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will learn today whether he is to remain in prison into the new year as British prosecutors attempt to prevent him being released on bail.

The 39-year-old will appear before the High Court in London as British lawyers acting for the Swedish authorities appeal against a decision to let him go free during extradition proceedings.

Assange is wanted for alleged sex offences committed in Stockholm while he was visiting the city in August.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed this morning that it made the call to appeal against bail but would not comment on whether Sweden had any input in the decision.

A spokeswoman said: “It is standard practice on all extradition cases that decisions regarding bail are taken by the domestic prosecuting authority.

“It would not be practical for prosecutors in a foreign jurisdiction, who are neither present in court when decisions are made, nor familiar with the domestic laws concerning bail, to make such decisions.”

But Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens called the decision “highly irregular” and said British prosecutors had asked City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court for time to consult with Swedish authorities after bail was granted on December 14.

He said: “The question we have to ask is if they weren’t talking to the Swedes, who were they talking to?

“It’s highly irregular because, as (director of public prosecutions) Keir Starmer said on Radio 4 this morning, the CPS are supposed to act as the agents of the Swedish authorities and they appear to be acting without the knowledge of their director or the Swedes.

“It remains opaque and unclear as to who actually gave the order to oppose bail.”

In a statement on her website, Sweden’s director of prosecution Marianne Ny said: “At a hearing on Tuesday December 14, Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London decided that Julian Assange should be granted bail. The decision was appealed by the British prosecutor.

“As I have already stated, I cannot at the moment provide information concerning the development of the matter, as it is handled by British authorities.”

Bail conditions imposed at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court included the posting of a £200,000 (€235,000) cash deposit, with a further £40,000 guaranteed in two sureties of £20,000.

Today Assange is expected to appear in the dock of Court 4 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the appeal hearing, which is likely to last two hours, with every one of the courtroom’s 200 seats occupied by the parties and the world’s media.

The application is being heard by Mr Justice Ouseley who last week, in another high-profile case, rejected an appeal by South African authorities and allowed bail pending extradition proceedings for Shrien Dewani, the husband of a woman murdered on honeymoon in South Africa.

Mr Stephens was surrounded by journalists as he arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice.

He said: “We are hopeful, but of course it is a matter entirely for the judge.

“He will hear everything afresh and it is a matter for his decision and his decision alone.

“Nothing has changed in relation to the conditions of bail.”

Asked about the conditions Assange is being held in at Wandsworth Prison, Mr Stephens added: “No, they have not changed and I remain concerned about them.

“I think it is unfortunate that somebody who on my advice would not go to jail even if convicted is being held effectively on a punishment regime in Wandsworth jail in what are Victorian conditions.”

Assange has been held in solitary confinement, only released from his cell for one hour a day and his mail has been heavily censored, according to his supporters.

Mr Stephens said: “We currently have pledges from all the people who stood behind him on other occasions. That money appears to be in the banking system.”

Pressed further, the lawyer added: “We are coming here today at the request of the Swedish Government.

“We are aware that the Swedes asked for an appeal, we are also aware that the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer has also said that all that the CPS is doing is the bidding of the Swedish Government.”

Assange arrived at the High Court in a white prison van.

Photographers swarmed around the vehicle in an attempt to get a picture of the whistleblower.

About three dozen photographers and cameramen were gathered outside the courthouse in The Strand, central London, with a solitary protester wearing a mask with Assange’s face on it.

There was a noisy demonstration and heavy police presence outside City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

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