Assange gets bail in UK

posted at 12:15 pm on December 14, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

The British courts have reconsidered Julian Assange’s bail request and will free him on $310,000 bond after spending the last week in jail, as early as later today or tomorrow morning.  The court has restricted his movements and ordered him to spend each night in the club where he initially hid from authorities seeking his arrest on a warrant in Sweden for inquiry into potential rape charges:

After a week in detention facing possible extradition, Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks antisecrecy group, was ordered released on $310,000 bail by a court on Tuesday as he challenges a Swedish prosecutor’s demand for his extradition to face questioning about alleged sex offenses.

Judge Howard Riddle ordered that Mr. Assange appear again in court on Jan. 11. He also said that between then and now he must reside at Ellingham Hall, a Georgian mansion in Bungay, eastern England, owned by Vaughan Smith, the founder of the Frontline Club, which is used mainly by journalists. Mr. Assange must spend every night at the mansion and will be electronically tagged so the police can track his movements, the judge said.

Additionally, Mr. Assange will be under curfew every day from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will be required to report daily to the police from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. His passport is already with the police and, under the terms of his bail, he is not permitted to try to travel abroad.

A British lawyer acting for Swedish authorities who had opposed bail said nothing had changed since it was denied a week ago. The Swedish government said it would appeal against Mr. Assange’s release, but one of this lawyers said he probably would not be released until Wednesday morning.

I have no particular love for Assange and believe the US should seek extradition on charges of espionage, if the statutes here apply to what Assange has done (which The Corner has debated for the last several days).  That said, refusing bail on an arrest warrant when no actual charges have been filed in Sweden appears to be punitive rather than a measured approach.  Assange did turn himself into authorities and appear in court willingly, at least nominally.

Furthermore, the investigation into Assange for rape relies on some questionable legal definitions — which is probably why Sweden hasn’t actually charged Assange with anything yet.  That isn’t the purview of British courts, of course, but it should have been considered when Assange applied for bail.  It’s difficult to know whether the claims of the two women about differing levels of consensual approval will be treated as a criminal offense by the courts at all, or whether prosecutors will even bother to come to court in the first place.  If Sweden just wants Assange in custody for questioning, then all that needs to happen is to ensure that Assange and his lawyers can be found for investigators to travel to the UK to interrogate him.  That doesn’t require imprisonment.

This differs greatly from the case of Roman Polanski, who was convicted of rape and fled before sentencing.  Assange has not been convicted, not been charged, and hasn’t jumped bail, either.  Polanski, on the other hand, not only did all of those, but has continued to defy prosecution with the assistance of American allies who refuse to meet their obligations for extradition.

Let’s stick to the law and to the real violations Assange has committed.  Bail is appropriate in this case, and should have been granted immediately.

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