After spending nine days in the basement cell of a London prison, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday won back his freedom as the High Court threw out an appeal by the Swiss authorities against the bail granted to him by a magistrates' court earlier this week.
Mr. Assange, wearing a suit and open-neck shirt, was greeted by a media scrum and supporters as he emerged from the court, a free man. His first words were that it was “great to smell again the fresh air of London”. He said he wanted to thank “all the people around the world” for their support and would continue to “protest [his] innocence”.
Mr. Assange was released after his legal team deposited a cash security of ?240,000 as part of the bail conditions, which also require him to stay at a “fixed” address — a sprawling country house in Suffolk owned by a journalist friend. He would be fitted with an electronic tag to monitor his movements and have to report to a local police station every day.
Most of the security money was raised by his supporters, who included a number of high-profile public figures and celebrities such as filmmakers Ken Loach and Michael Moore.
Earlier, granting him bail, the court rejected the prosecution's claim that there was a risk that, because of his “nomadic lifestyle”, Mr. Assange could abscond if freed.
“That is not the conduct of a person who is seeking to evade justice,” Justice Ouseley said, pointing out that he had himself surrendered to the police when he learned that there was an arrest warrant against him.
However, Mr. Assange's legal difficulties are not over yet as he now faces attempts to extradite him to Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault brought on by two women. Extradition hearings are expected to be held either next month or in February.
The news of the bail sparked jubilant scenes outside the High Court where hundreds had gathered despite freezing temperatures and rain. Writer Tariq Ali said he was greatly “relieved”.
“He should never have been denied bail in the first place,” he said, describing his arrest as “vindictive and punitive”.
While Mr. Assange's lawyers said the appeal was part of a “continuing vendetta by the Swedes”, the Swedish Prosecutor's office claimed that the decision to appeal was made by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Swedes had nothing to do with it.
“The decision was made by the British prosecutor….The Swedish prosecutors are not allowed to make decisions within Britain,” Karin Rosander, director of communications for Sweden Prosecutor's Office said.
The CPS insisted that the appeal was fully supported by the Swedish authorities.