Friends and supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who stood surety for his £240,000 bail, face losing their credibility as well as money after the police said he had broken his bail conditions by seeking asylum at the Ecuadorean Embassy.
One condition required him to remain at a registered address between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. That registered address was his friend Vaughan Smith’s country house in Norfolk. Police said he had breached the promise by choosing to live at Ecuador’s embassy and faced arrest.
Several high-profile public figures, including filmmaker Ken Loach and journalist Jemima Khan, contributed up to £20,000 each towards Mr. Assange’s surety. Now they stand to lose their money and reportedly feel let down.
Ms. Khan said she was “surprised”. “I had expected him to face the allegations [in Sweden]. I am surprised as anyone by this,” she wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Smith, too, had no prior knowledge of Mr. Assange’s plans saying the news “came as surprise to me”. He said he stood to lose £20,000 but defended Mr. Assange in public.
“This is money my family needs. But my family don’t believe they are facing life imprisonment or death. I am convinced [Assange] genuinely believes he will be sent to America and will face something terrible there,” he said.
Mr. Assange’s choice of Ecuador also surprised many. The Guardian, which collaborated with Mr. Assange on publishing leaked confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, pointed out that Ecuador’s “justice system and record on free speech have been called into question by a number of campaigning organisations including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International”.
José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, was reported saying that it was “ironic” that a professed free speech campaigner was seeking political asylum from a government whose record on free speech was among “the poorest” in the region.
Legal experts wondered why, instead of approaching the European Court of Human Rights, he chose to seek asylum. Human Rights lawyer Helena Kennedy, a former member of Mr. Assange’s legal team, speculated that it could be a ploy to “bargain” with Sweden for assurances that it would not hand him over to America if he was extradited.