WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walkes free on bail from a British jail and tell media he will “continue my work and continue to protest my innocence.”
Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning on sex crimes allegations, emerged from London’s High Court to address supporters before driving off to the 10-bedroom friend home where he is due to spend much of the next month.
Assange spoke to a crowd of journalists and supporters waiting in outside the High Court five hours after a judge said he could be released on $312,000 bail under stringent conditions. “It’s great to smell the fresh air of London again,” Assange told cheering supporters amid a barrage of flash bulbs.
He went on to thank “all the people around the world who had faith” in him, his lawyers for putting up a “brave and ultimately successful fight”, members of the press and the British justice system. “If justice is not always an outcome, at least it is not dead yet,” he added.
Assange gave no indication of what his immediate plans were, but said the period he spent in prison had given him time to reflect on the condition of inmates elsewhere. He didn’t responded to shouted questions from assembled journalists, returning inside the court to get into his lawyer’s car.
Assange is headed to Ellingham Hall, in Bungay, which is owned by Vaughan Smith, a WikiLeaks supporter and founder of London’s Frontline Club for journalists.
The 39-year-old Australian later arrived at Ellingham Hall, in Suffolk eastern England, where he must live as a condition of his bail. He spoke to reporters at the mansion that belongs to a former army officer and Assange supporter, Vaughan Smith. He is also the founder of London’s Frontline Club for journalists.
Assange will have to observe a curfew, wear an electronic tag and report to police every day — restrictions imposed by High Court Justice Duncan Ouseley.
“I continue on with our work. Clearing my name is not the highest task I have. The highest task I have is to continue with my work,” said Mr. Assange.
Assange denies sex-crimes allegations stemming from a visit to Sweden over the summer, accusations that have clouded his reputation and prompted complaints from supporters that the 39-year-old Australian is being persecuted for political reasons.
The allegations include the rape and molestation of one woman and the molestation and unlawful coercion of another. Assange’s 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.
Lawyer Gemma Lindfield, acting for Sweden, said the allegations had enhanced Assange’s reputation among his supporters, who “view it as part of the wider conspiracy.” She said given Assange’s nomadic lifestyle and loose ties to some of those promising bond, there was “a real risk” he would flee.
But the judge said when Assange arrived in Britain, he had asked his lawyers to contact police so they would know where he was. “That is not the conduct of a person who is seeking to evade justice,” Ouseley said.
Swedish Prosecutor Marianne Ny said the bail decision would not change the ongoing investigation in Sweden, and the extradition case would be handled by British authorities.
Assange also told reporters that he was more concerned that the United States might try to extradite him than he was about being extradited to Sweden.
Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that U.S. prosecutors might be preparing to indict him for espionage over WikiLeaks’ publication of the documents.
“We have a rumor 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,” Assange said.
The New York Times said on Wednesday federal prosecutors were looking for evidence that he had conspired with a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking classified documents.
Shortly before Assange’s release, his mother Christine, who had flown over from Australia, said she could not wait to see her son and “to hold him close.”
Assange made powerful enemies around the world as his website published 250,000 sensitive United States diplomatic cables. His supporters regard him as one of the most important campaigners for freedom of information and human rights. [via The Telegraph (UK), BBC, USA Today and Reuters]