Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, will return to court on Thursday in the latest stage of his attempt to win release from prison on bail.
The 39-year-old whistle-blower, who is wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offences, was granted bail at a court hearing yesterday after supporters agreed to post a £200,000 cash deposit. But he was told he would remain behind bars after Swedish authorities said they would fight his release ahead of a full extradition hearing next year.
They will make their case at the High Court in London tomorrow. The appeal was lodged after District Judge Howard Riddle told Assange he could be released from Wandsworth Prison in south west London on condition he reside at the agreed address of a former British Army officer. Captain Vaughan Smith, founder of the journalists’ Frontline Club, offered to house the 39-year-old Australian at his estate in Suffolk. But he admitted after the hearing at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court that harbouring the former hacker could put his own safety at risk.
Assange has made powerful enemies around the world as his website published 250,000 highly-sensitive United States diplomatic cables. He has received death threats and has spent the past week in solitary confinement amid fears he could be attacked.
Asked if he could now be a target, Capt Smith said: “If I do, I do. I have still got to make a stand.”
In a further sign of the security fears for those close to Assange, his mother Christine was accompanied by plain-clothes bodyguards when she attended court yesterday. But Capt Smith, who spoke of Assange in glowing terms in court, was adamant about his decision to stand by him and his cause.
“I wanted to make a personal stand, I considered it very important,” he said. “I want to make a stand for tolerance.”
He went on: “I think we will be judged on our tolerance on this issue – Mr Assange is as much a phenomenon as anything else.
“You can’t uninvent the internet. If he did not do it, somebody else would. We have got to find a way of managing the change he has caused.
“I think this is important. We do not often read in our newspapers that traditional media has worked with Mr Assange to do redactions.”
And his faith in Assange appeared unshakeable as he insisted he had “no concerns” that the whistle-blower would “do a runner”, pointing out that there were strict conditions on his bail. But politicians in the United States have suggested Assange should be put on trial for treason and face the death penalty. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, called for him to be hunted down like the al-Qaida leadership.
The case against Assange centres on his relations with two women in Stockholm while he was visiting the city in August. The allegations include the rape and molestation of one woman and the molestation and unlawful coercion of another. But his supporters claim the criminal inquiry and extradition request is unfair and politically motivated.
High-profile backers including socialite Jemima Khan, novelist Tariq Ali, campaigner Bianca Jagger and film-maker Ken Loach have tried to assist him by offering sureties. thers who pledged support and were waiting in the wings yesterday included author Hanif Kureishi and film-maker Michael Moore.
Assange was denied bail at his first court appearance last week on the grounds that he could flee the country.
A High Court judge will consider the Swedish authorities’ appeal tomorrow and will decide whether to overturn District Judge Riddle’s subsequent decision to grant bail.