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Julian Assange Of WikiLeaks Granted Bail; Swedish Prosecutors Appeal

by on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 2:29 pm EDT in Politics, WikiLeaks

Moments ago, a British Court decision granted WikiLeaks’ leader Julian Assange bail, inciting loud and exuberant cheers from a mob beyond the courthouse doors.  The decision came with some strict conditions:  £200,000 (approximately $315,900 US) in security, £40,000 (approx. $63,180 US) in surety from two people, ‘a curfew, daily reporting to police, and a surrender of his passport’.

Swedish prosecutors were given two hours to appeal the decision, and the Guardian is reporting that they have in fact opted to do so.  As a result Assange heads back to his prison cell until the appeal is heard at the High Court.  Assange’s attorney, Mark Stevens, added that the £200,000 could not be paid by check (as checks take seven days to clear).  Therefore Assange was headed to jail regardless of the appeal, only so that he could find a way of producing the security in cash.  To date, a total of £1 million in sureties have been pledged to support Assange’s bail application.

Stevens had this to say about the Swedish appeal:

“They [the Swedish authorities] clearly will not spare any expense to keep Mr Assange in jail.”

“This is really turning in to a show trial. We will be in court in the next 48 hours, they haven’t given us the courtesy to say when. It is an unfortunate state of affairs … but given their history of persecuting Mr Assange, it is perhaps not surprising.”

Sarah Ludford, the Liberal Democrat European justice and human rights spokeswoman, wrote a letter to the Guardian today asserting that Sweden is misusing the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) — using it for a fishing expedition — and thereby undermining the integrity of the EAW process.  She states that:

“the EAW is restricted to ‘the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution’, which must mean imminent charge followed by trial. If your reports are correct that the Swedish request for extradition of Assange under an EAW is ‘to face questioning’ or for ‘interview’, this would appear to conflict with the high court case of Asztaslos last February, which confirmed that it is not a legitimate purpose for an EAW to be used to conduct an investigation to see whether that person should be prosecuted.”

She goes on to say that for purposes of questioning — which is precisely the Swedish prosecutor’s stated reason for this EAW — national authorities should be using things like videoconferencing to conduct the interviews:

EU justice ministers last June called on national authorities not to misuse the EAW. Normal cross-border co-operation on collection of evidence or interrogation of suspects called “mutual legal assistance”, using for example videoconferencing or a summons for temporary transfer of a suspect, should be used when more appropriate.

Another of Assange’s attorneys, Jennifer Robinson, recently told DemocracyNow that before the EAWs were issued, Assange and his defense team had been rather aggressive about maintaining contact with the Swedish prosecutor.  They repeatedly offered Assange’s full cooperation to interview with her, and each offer was rejected:

It’s important to note that Mr. Assange remained in Sweden for almost a month, in order to clear his name. While he was in Sweden, after the allegations came out, he was in touch with the prosecuting authorities and offered on numerous occasions to provide an interview in order to clear his name. Those offers were not taken up by the police.

He obviously has had to travel for work, and had meetings to attend, and in order to leave Sweden he sought specific permission of the prosecutor to leave on the grounds that there was an outstanding investigation, and she gave that permission. So he left Sweden lawfully, and without objection by the prosecuting authorities.

Since that time we have communicated through his Swedish counsel, on numerous occasions, offers to provide answers to the questions that she may have through other means — through teleconference, through video link, by attending an embassy here in the UK to provide that information, and all those offers were rejected.

It’s also important to remember that the prosecutor has not once issued a formal summons for his interrogation. So all of these communications have been informally, and in our view it’s disproportionate to seek an arrest warrant when voluntary cooperation has been offered.

Clearly, by demanding his extradition for mere questioning, the Swedish prosecutors are abusing the integrity of the EAW process.  Considering they could have interviewed Assange at any given time leading up to the issuance of the EAWs, their entire motivation for the extradition request is called into question.

And shame on the UK for not rejecting the EAW on grounds that it is clearly being abused, according to its stated purpose.  This entire legal proceeding is a farce.

It would appear that Sweden and the UK are merely buying time until the U.S. can put together its own frivolous extradition request.