In the media glare, Assange vows to fight 'smears'

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The Independent Online

Julian Assange vowed last night to continue publishing highly sensitive US diplomatic cables after he was freed from prison by a judge.

The founder of the WikiLeaks website was granted bail yesterday after the High Court threw out an appeal by prosecutors. The Australian journalist, 39, who is wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offences, had spent nine days in Wandsworth prison since he was held under a European arrest warrant issued by the Swedes.

Mr Assange smiled and gave a thumbs-up as he left the dock. He was bailed to reside at Ellingham Hall, a mansion on the Suffolk-Norfolk border, owned by Vaughan Smith, the proprietor of London's Frontline Club.

He told a crowd of journalists and supporters: "I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it, which we have not yet, the evidence from these allegations."

Mr Assange went on to thank "all the people around the world who had faith in me and who have supported my team while I have been away". He thanked his legal team, the media and "the British justice system itself, where, if justice is not always an outcome, at least it is not dead yet".

In a series of interviews, Assange later expressed his concern over further indictment for espionage in the US, and that while American legal action "had yet to be confirmed" it was "extremely serious". "We have heard today from one of my US lawyers that there may be a US indictment for espionage for me coming from a secret grand jury investigation," he said.

In a speech outside Ellingham Hall, Mr Assange accused Swedish authorities of hampering his attempts to fight the charges, saying, "I have yet to receive a single page of anything from this investigation in English. My lawyers in Sweden only recently took hold of 100 pages of material, in Swedish, which is yet to be translated and given to me. That is only a fraction of the material." He added: "There is an attempt to gag my Swedish lawyer."

Mr Assange was arrested last Tuesday on sexual assault allegations. The case centres on his relationships with two women while he was visiting Stockholm last August. He is accused of raping and molesting one woman and molesting and unlawfully coercing another. He faces up to four years in jail if extradited and convicted in Sweden.

Mr Assange expressed concern that the criminal inquiry and extradition request might be politically motivated. "One of the concerns that we have had since I have been in the UK is whether the extradition proceeding to Sweden, which is occurring in a very strange and unusual way, is actually an attempt to get me into a jurisdiction which will then make it easier to extradite me to the United States."

Mr Assange was initially refused bail at a first extradition hearing last week but this was overturned on Tuesday. Swedish prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed against that decision yesterday. The judge rejected claims that Mr Assange posed such a risk of absconding that it was impossible to bail him. Mr Justice Ouseley said that Mr Assange's co-operation with police suggested he was not "a person who is seeking to evade justice". The journalist had been in touch with Scotland Yard since arriving in the UK in October and later handed himself in.

In an interview with Newsnight, Mr Assange described the allegations against him in Sweden as "a very successful smear campaign and a very wrong one" suggesting that further information relating to the sexual assault claims had been leaked either by "the Swedish prosecution service or some organisations that have obtained selective material".

He added: "My lawyers informed me this afternoon there will be another smear attempt relating to this investigation some time tomorrow."

The judge agreed a £200,000 cash deposit raised by Mr Assange's supporters should be lodged with the court. He also asked that seven other sureties, of £5,000 each, be paid.

Arriving at Ellingham Hall, Mr Assange said: "Being in a situation of physical isolation, in solitary confinement, has allowed me to consider the philosophy that I have espoused in this project and it has not altered my position – rather, it has confirmed to me personally that we are on the right path."