Friday, December 17, 2010

Everything about Julian Assange's Release

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was freed on bail and vowed to continue to fight against the rape allegations he faces in Sweden. He said he hoped to reveal evidence to proved his innocence as and when he obtained it.

High court judge Mr Justice Ouseley, upheld the decision by City of Westminster magistrates court on Tuesday to free Assange on strict conditions. But there was a wait of more than four hours before it was confirmed that the bail conditions would be met today and he would not have to face another night in jail. The bail conditions were as follows: a £200,000 cash deposit, with a further £40,000 guaranteed in two sureties of £20,000 and strict conditions on his movement.

Lawyers acting for the Crown Prosecution Service argued that Assange was likely to abscond. But the judge noted that Assange had made arrangements at an early stage of his stay in Britain for his lawyers to be in contact with the Metropolitan police over the ongoing case in Sweden. "That is not the conduct of a person who is seeking to evade justice," the judge said.

And here's the text of Assange's full statement delivered outside the court on his release:

It's great to smell the fresh air of London again.

First, some thank yous. To all the people around the world who have had faith in me, who have supported my team while I have been away. 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 aversion. And to members of the press who are not all taken in and considered to look deeper in their work. And I guess finally, to the British justice system itself, where if justice is not always the outcome at least it is not dead yet.

During my time in solitary confinement in the bottom of a Victorian prison I had time to reflect on the conditions of those people around the world also in solitary confinement, also on remand, in conditions that are more difficult than those faced by me. 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. Thank you.

That seems like a good moment to end the live blog for today, so thanks for all your comments. Goodnight.

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 ends the brief statement by saying he will continue the fight and hopes "to reveal...the evidence from these allegations".

Assange ignores the flurry of questions aimed at him and turns away from the cameras.

He thanks all the people around the world who have had faith in him and his lawyers, sureties "in the face of great difficulty and aversion", also members of the press "who were not all taken in" and finally the British justice system. "If justice is not always the outcome, at least it is not dead yet."

A source with knowledge of events said a fresh issue may stop Assange's freedom. He must be at his bail address in Ellingham Hall, in Norfolk, by 10pm this evening. By a certain point it will become clear that he can not make the drive from London in time.
At this stage it appears either not all the sureties or not all of the £200,000 security money are in place.

From PA:

The country's top judge will issue interim guidance on the use of micro-blogging site Twitter in courts after supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were banned from posting updates today.
Just hours after Mr Justice Ouseley ruled supporters and journalists should not send Tweets to give a blow-by-blow account of proceedings, the judicial communications office said the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge will issue new guidance for all courts on Monday...
A spokeswoman for the judicial communications office said Lord Judge "will issue interim guidance on the use of Twitter and electronic devices for the purpose of reporting court proceedings pending the conclusion of a consultation process".

The Economist compares DDOS attacks with civil disobedience, against British rule in India, or against segregation in America, likening them to a mass sit-in, making entry to or exit from a building impossible. But it adds:

In a free society the moral footing for peaceful lawbreaking must be an individual's readiness to take the consequences, argue in court and fight for a change in the law. Demonstrators therefore deserve protection only if they are identifiable. Some countries (like Germany) even prohibit protesters from wearing masks.
Protesters in cyberspace, by contrast, are usually anonymous and untraceable. The furtive, nameless nature of DDOS attacks disqualifies them from protection; their anonymous perpetrators look like cowardly hooligans, not heroes. This applies to those attacking WikiLeaks too—a point American politicians calling for reprisals against Julian Assange's outfit should note. Posses and vigilantes, online and off, mete out rough justice, at best. That is no substitute for the real thing.

While all this is going on the stories from the US embassy cables continue to emerge. The Guardian will be publishing more stories tonight with the focus on India.

Will they bear any resemblance to the fake Wikileads cables published by Pakistani newspapers last week attacking India? You might remember those included disparaging descriptions of Indian generals, with one labelled as "rather a geek" and another said to be responsible for "genocide" and compared to Slobodan Milosevic.

The Crown Prosecution Service acts as agent for the Swedish Government in the Assange case. The Swedish Director of Prosecutions this morning confirmed that she fully supported the appeal.

It doesn't say whether the Swedish government asked the CPS to appeal...

We're told Assange's paperwork is complete and going to court clerk now #Wikileaks

Sources tell us the court will stay open until all the bail money is counted and paperwork's done #assange won't be going back to jail 2nite

He writes:

To indict someone as a criminal "conspirator" in a leak on the ground that they took steps to encourage the disclosures would be to criminalize investigative journalism every bit as much as charging Assange with "espionage" for publishing classified information.

(That's it from me for today. My colleague Haroon Siddique is about to take over.)

The British judge said this: "The history of the way it [the case] has been dealt with by the Swedish prosecutors ...

... would give Mr Assange some basis that he might be acquitted following a trial." That's what the British high court had 2 say 2day.

"I'm delighted by this decision. It will be excellent to have Julian back with us again. Let's hope that will happen as early as this evening," Hrafnsson told Luke Harding.

Hrafnsson said it would be entirely possible for WikiLeaks to operate out of the remote manor house on the Norfolk-Suffolk borders to where Assange will be bailed. "We have a fairly decent internet connection there. We will keep on operating as we have done before. WikiLeaks has many members and we have never all been in the same place."

Of today's high court judgment upholding bail, he said: "It's what I expected. I had full confidence that justice would be done, otherwise it would have been a travesty."

Jennifer Robinson, one of Assange's lawyers, said the five new people who would be accepted as surety were former journalist and author of The First Casualty Sir Phillip Knightley; magazine publisher Felix Dennis; Nobel prize winner Sir John Sulston; former Labour minister and chairman of Faber & Faber publishing house Lord Matthew Evans; and Professor Patricia David.

Because some of them may be out of London or travelling abroad, the judge allowed two substitutes: solicitor Geoff Shears and Baroness Tracy Worcester.

Those who are acting as surety either have to go to Westminster magistrates court to sign the paperwork or to a nominated police station.

Robinson said they were racing against time to get the paperwork filled out. "We are hoping he will be out today but it is looking more and more unlikely."

I can't wait to see my son and to hold him close. I had faith in the British justice system to do the right thing, and that faith has been confirmed today.

They are all rushing to a police station, according to a tweet from Times reporter Alexi Mostrous.

Vikram has been trying to get to the bottom of how many sureties are now required. He says they need to find five today in addition to the two individuals identified on Tuesday: Vaughan Smith and Sarah Saunders.

It is believed that one or two of the additional five are outside London. They all need to sign the paperwork before Assange can be freed.

The high court in London has granted bail to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is facing rape charges in Sweden. The judge, Mr Justice Ouseley, upheld the decision by City of Westminster magistrates court on Tuesday to free Assange on strict conditions: a £200,000 cash deposit, with a further £40,000 guaranteed in two sureties of £20,000 and strict conditions on his movement. An additional five individuals offering sureties have been added.

Lawyers acting for the Crown Prosecution Service argued that Assange was likely to abscond. But the judge noted that Assange had made arrangements at an early stage of his stay in Britain for his lawyers to be in contact with the Metropolitan police over the ongoing case in Sweden. "That is not the conduct of a person who is seeking to evade justice," the judge said.

Assange is likely to be released later today. Officials are currently processing the necessary paperwork. The delay involves tracking down sureties who are outside London. One of Assange's lawyers, Mark Stephens, said on the steps of the high court: "He will not be going back to that Victorian prison. He will not be going back to that cell once occupied by Oscar Wilde."

We are expecting Julian to be released some time later today, or at a worst case analysis tomorrow. Everybody is working very hard for that - the police, the prosecution and our own legal team.

We are hopeful that he will be released from here [the court] but if the formalities are not completed before the bus goes back to Wandsworth, he will be released from Wandsworth later.

If Julian is released I am sure before he is whisked off to the country for his mansion arrest, he will be able to have a word with everybody. I'm hopeful that he will want to do that.

We haven't addressed the question of American legal action or the potential for it. Our main focus is delight and joy, and delight and joy of Julian's family, that he is going to be released in the very foreseeable future.

He will not be going back to that Victorian prison. He will not be going back to that cell once occupied by Oscar Wilde.

Lawyers for Assange believe that seven new people to act as surety are needed before the WikiLeaks founder can be released.

The seven all need to sign a formal piece of paper promising to pay over sums of money if Assange breaks bail conditions.

Mark Stephens, lawyer for Assange, has said three of those people approved by the high court judge to act as surety are out of London.

On Tuesday in City of Westminister magistrates court, district judge Riddle granted bail on the basis that two people would act as surety.

Assange's lawyers now say that nine people in total have been idenitified as surety under the bail conditions.

Stephens was seen at administration offices of the high court accompanied by members of the extradition squad who are believed to be assisting arrangements.

"He will not be going back to that Victorian prison. He will not be going back to that cell once occupied by Oscar Wilde."

Speaking at the entrance of the court, Stephens said the worst case scenario was that he would be freed tomorrow.

The question of who challenged bail remained "opaque", Stephens added.

"We are not getting to extradition today." The main focus was "delight and joy" that Assange won't be returning to Wandsworth jail.

Gemma Lindfield, appearing for the Swedish authories, described Assange as living a nomadic lifestyle with no significant ties in the UK. Those offering to provide sureties had not known him long, she said.

Given the extent of his support as the founder of WikiLeaks, he had "the means and ability" to flee the country or go into hiding in the UK.

Supporters who might have to pay up if he were to abscond could regard that as "money lost for the cause", said Lindfield.

Rejecting her submissions and ordering conditional bail, the judge described how shortly after he arrived in the UK from Sweden, Assange had been aware that the allegations against him in Sweden were still live.

He had made arrangements for his solicitors to be his point of contact with the Metropolitan police so that in the event of a warrant being issued, the police would not have to search for him.

The judge said: "That is not the conduct of a person who is seeking to evade justice."

Asked about when Assange will be released, Mark Stephens told Vikram: "It's going to be a problem." The trouble concerns getting Assange's bail sponsors to police stations today so they can sign surety documents.

She tweeted: "Cps suggested powerful and rich supporters offering surety for a cause, not because they cd vouch for #assange personally #wikileaks"

She tweeted: "Concerns over conditions included query over opening hours of tiny rural police station (2-5pm) and state of roads."

The judge acknowledged that Assange has co-operated with the Swedish authorities over the allegations he faces, according to Sky News. Even if he was convicted Assange would only face a brief prison sentence, and possibly no prison sentence at all, the court heard, according to Sky.

It could take up to an hour to process Assange's release, according to PA.

PA has confirmed that Assagne was granted bail subject to conditions

One of the conditions for the original bail, granted on Tuesday, is Assange reporting to a police station in Bungay, Suffolk, every day at 6pm.

It turns out that there isn't a police station in Bungay and the nearest police station is Beccles – which is only open between 2pm and 5pm and closed over much of Christmas.

Sorry about the technical problems. We are not sure what happened, but we have had to strip out the photos and other embedded items from this live blog.

Legal blogger Carl Gardner tweets:

Some people laughed last week when I suggested noise and disruption was the reason phones had to be off in court. It seems I was right.

The information campaigner Heather Brooke tweets:

We need to move beyond this idealism of 'perfect justice' and see how it's really done. Warts and all.

@forumwikileaks tweets this:

UPDATE FROM COURT: ███ █████ ████ ████ ████ ███ █ ██████ █████ ███ █████ ████ #wikileaks

Mr Jusitce Ouseley said: "The history of the way it [the case] has been dealt with by the Swedish prosecutors would give Mr Assange some basis that he might be acquitted following a trial."

Declan Walsh in Islamabad reports:

Butterfly sanitary towels centred on the WikiLeaks, with the slogan "WikiLeaks, Butterfly doesn't". A picture of the ad campaign has gone viral on Pakistan's twitter network this week. At first I thought it might be a Photoshop hoax of questionable taste, but turns out to be absolutely true.

Here's a story from local journalist Saba Imtiaz.

How come everyone is tweeting that the judge has banned tweeting from the hearing? Don't you have respect for THE LAW?

"This is not something I normally deal with," Mr Justice Ouseley said. "District judge Riddle [on Tuesday] did permit the use of tweets. That's to say short text messages, made by use of a Blackberry or a laptop."

He said tweets from the court would represent a distraction.

"I recognise the calls for debate ... The issue involving Twitter may involve the potential for disruption to the atmosphere of the court, which one might call its dignity."

Esther added that Assange looks "frazzled". He is wearing a white shirt with no tie and a dark shirt. He is flanked in the dock by two guards and behind ornate bars, she said.

Vikram Dodd confirms that: "Judge says twitter is not allowed. Goodbye"

Meanwhile PA has been talking to some of the WikiLeaks supporters gathering at the court.

Bulgarian Angel Spasov, 30, who lives in north-east London, said: "What has happened is completely wrong. We are supporting freedom of speech and he has shown the world the truth. He is doing this to make it a better world and governments around the world may not like it but we should be able to know what has really happened."

Verena Payr, 29, travelled from her home in Tyrol, west Austria, to support Assange at court.

She said: "I heard everything about the charges and I thought I had to do something. I went to the WikiLeaks website, joined the forum and agreed to start a demonstration in London. I want to have a pint with him."

"It is raining, but even if it was minus 20 degrees I would still be here."

Disappointed not to be able to be in court today.

The veteran journalist John Pilger, one of Assange's supporters offering surety, has turned up at court. He said Assange should walk free today.

She's demanding $15m (that's US dollars, not Zimbabwean) from the Standard newspaper, according to the BBC.

The article in question is still leading the Standard's site.

"It appears to be in the banking system," Stephens told reporters outside the court.

That means that if the high court uphold's the decision to grant Assange bail, he may walk free today.

Yesterday Stephens said half of the £200,000 needed for bail had been raised in cash. Let's hope they have good security guards.

The application is being heard by Mr Justice Ouseley.

Esther Addley tweets:

Court to open at 10.50, leaving 80 minutes for a long line of journalists to stand tweeting about being in a queue #assange

At this stage it unclear whether Ouseley will allow tweeting from court. The suspicion is that he won't.

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.

Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens said this was "highly irregular". He told PA:

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 prosecutions 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.

Once again photographers swarmed around the vehicle in an attempt to get a picture. Expect more weird photos of Assange behind red tinted glass soon.

Our legal affairs correspondent Afua Hirsch has a useful Q&A on the legal battle.

Cables showed that diplomats were asked to gather biometric details on key UN officials.

Last night Ban made light of the issue by mildly teasing the US at the annual UN Correspondents' Association dinner.

AFP reports:

Ban started his speech, to an audience that included US ambassador Susan Rice, by flashing details such as "credit card number", "shoe size" and "ring finger 7.5" on to the screen.

Last night he wrote:

The CPS has phoned me to confirm it took the decision to appeal bail yesterday in Julian Assange's case – without consulting the Swedish prosecutor. The CPS spokesman stressed to me that this is usual practice in extradition cases. The CPS makes all decisions on bail, apparently. That is in line with article 12 of the European arrest warrant framework decision.

It follows that it's the CPS who consider Julian Assange a "flight risk", and who oppose bail.

The Guardian is there in force.

Patrick Kingsley tweets:

A veritable hubbub now outside the Royal Courts of Justice. About 20 journos here, 2 or 3 members of the public.

Esther Addley tweets: Queues already outside high court for #assange appeal hearing. A colleague was here at 6am. Dedication!

Vikram Dodd and Luke Harding will also be reporting from the court.

The exercise has been dismissed as "pointless". But today US top brass defended the decision.

Major Toni Tones told CNN:

Our actions to block the access of classified material from an unclassified network is not to discriminate against any news outlet or information website. The primary purpose is to ensure the security of our unclassified systems and to safeguard classified information.

The high court will hold a hearing today on an appeal against Tuesday's decision to grant bail for the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The hearing is due to start at around 11.30am. It is part of a legal battle over whether Assange should be extradited to Sweden over sexual assault charges.

Will there be more tweeting from the court?

Last night the Guardian reported that it was the British authorities who decided to oppose bail for Assange, and not prosecutors in Sweden as previously thought.

"The Swedish authorities are not involved in these proceedings. We have not got a view at all on bail," Karin Rosander, director of communications for Sweden's prosecutor's office, told us.

At the same time the US prosecutors are building a conspiracy case against Assange, according to the New York Times.

The respected campaign group Human Rights Watch has urged the US not to prosecute Assange. In a letter to the US president it said:

Dear President Obama:

We write to express our concern at the prospect that the US government would employ espionage laws against WikiLeaks or its founder for the release of US state department cables. Regardless of how one views the intentions, wisdom or strict legality of the WikiLeaks release, we believe that resorting to prosecution will degrade freedom of expression for all media, researchers and reporters, and set a terrible precedent that will be eagerly grasped by other governments, particularly those with a record of trying to muzzle legitimate political reporting.

There is also concern about the treatment of Bradley Manning, the former US intelligence operative, suspected of leaking the diplomatic cables.

According to an investigation by Salon's Glenn Greenwald, Manning is being held under conditions that some would regard as torture.

Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything.

Meanwhile another batch of leaked cables makes further disclosures. Here's a summary:

Striking resemblances between BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster and a little-reported giant gas leak in Azerbaijan experienced by the UK firm 18 months beforehand have emerged.

The president of Azerbaijan accused BP of stealing billions of dollars of oil from his country and using "mild blackmail" to secure the rights to develop vast gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region.

Senior figures in Thailand are concerned about the suitability of the crown prince to become king, citing rumours that he has lovers in several European capitals in addition to his wife and son in Thailand.

American energy firm Chevron was in discussions with Tehran about developing an Iraq-Iran cross-border oilfield, despite US sanctions against Iran.

You can follow all the previous disclosures and reaction on our other live blogs about the cables. And for full coverage go to our US embassy cables page or follow our US embassy cable Twitter feed @GdnCables.

You can also follow the progress of our You Ask:We Search exercise here

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