WikiLeaks' Assange granted bail in London

WikiLeaks' editor wins bail in U.K. court fight over extradition to Sweden, but he will remain in jail temporarily, while prosecutors appeal.

WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange was granted bail today by a London judge, but prosecutors said they will appeal the decision.

In a media-mobbed hearing today, a U.K. judge decided to release Assange on bail of 200,000 pounds, or about $317,000, on the condition that he surrender his passport, wear an electronic tracker, provide a U.K. address, and report to police daily.

U.K. prosecutors, acting on behalf of the Swedish government, told the court that they will file a formal appeal within 48 hours. This follows some confusion about whether an appeal will take place, with an ABC News correspondent posting a note on Twitter saying no appeal would happen.

Even if the appeal fails, it may take a few days for the money to be raised. Mark Stephens, an attorney at the London-based FSI law firm who is representing Assange, said, according to the U.K. Guardian: "The problem is that 200,000 [pounds] can't be paid in by check because checks take seven days to clear. We have to go around to find money in cash. Until this court is in possession of 200,000 [pounds], an innocent man stays in jail."

Today's developments are the newest twists in a high-profile story that combines the Swedish case with Assange's central role in releasing information about U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands of often-secret diplomatic cables.

Assange was arrested last week in London by police acting on behalf of Swedish authorities that accused him of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation, and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010, according to British police. Sweden is seeking his extradition; Assange has denied the charges.

The situation has produced a polarized reaction. WikiLeaks critics say the organization's actions harm U.S. security and undermine a legitimate need for diplomats to communicate confidentially. Supporters say WikiLeaks has helped shine necessary light on many countries' true motivations and behavior.

A CNET legal analysis shows that Assange could be vulnerable to prosecution under the U.S. Espionage Act , which has previously been applied extraterritorially to a German citizen, even though he holds an Australian passport. An attorney for Assange said a grand jury is being formed in in Alexandria, Va. , a possible mechanism for bringing such charges.

Also today:

• Activist filmmaker Michael Moore said he will contribute $20,000 toward Assange's bail. "I am publicly offering the assistance of my Web site, my servers, my domain names, and anything else I can do to keep WikiLeaks alive and thriving, as it continues its work to expose the crimes that were concocted in secret and carried out in our name and with our tax dollars," Moore said.

• The Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller and Mike Klein, the group's co-founders, denounced calls for the "persecution of Julian Assange" but stopped short of an outright endorsement of WikiLeaks' approach. "Some secrets about ongoing military operations and security activities should not be revealed to the public," they wrote. "Some debates over public policy can and should be done behind closed doors to allow for confidential negotiations, as long as there is public review."

• Assange has been barred from receiving correspondence while in jail, according to a BBC report.

• Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.) has said, according to a radio interview posted on YouTube by ThinkProgress, that U.S. media outlets (and presumably blogs) writing about WikiLeaks should be muzzled: "Here is an individual that is not an American citizen, first and foremost, for whatever reason, you know, gotten his hands on classified American material and put it out there in the public domain. And I think that we also should be censoring the American news agencies which enabled him to be able to do this and then also supporting him and applauding him for the efforts. So that's kind of aiding and abetting of a serious crime. Because of the fact that he's a foreign citizen, this is espionage."

• Columbia University's journalism school faculty is telling President Obama that prosecuting anyone involved in WikiLeaks "will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity."

• The invaluable Steven Aftergood notes that nobody seems to have any idea how many government employees and contractors hold security clearances. His ballpark estimate is 2.5 million.

And this evening:

• The Washington Post is running a simple but provocative cartoon titled "Prosecuting WikiLeaks."

• Twitter-ing is allowed in the London court, according to chief magistrate Howard Riddle. Not all judges are that enlightened.

• The Air Force is blocking personnel from visiting the Web sites of the New York Times and other publications that have reproduced some of the classified WikiLeaks cables, the Wall Street Journal reports. (CNET was the first to report last week that some federal government installations were blocking access to WikiLeaks and its mirrors.)

• FoxNews.com is running an odd opinion article by psychiatrist Keith Ablow titled "Inside the Mind of Julian Assange." Representative excerpt: "Lots of secrets may have marred Julian Assange's development."

• Arbor Networks has an intelligent description of the attempted denial of service attacks swirling around l'affaire Wikileaks. "Most of the attacks over the last week were both relatively small and unsophisticated," it says. "In short, other than than intense media scrutiny, the attacks were unremarkable."

Last updated at 11 p.m. PT with information about the status of the appeal and additional news.

 

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