Julian Assange's celebrity backers 'surprised' but supportive of bail breach bid for political asylum

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Julian Assange’s backers expressed surprise at his shock move to seek asylum at the Ecuador Embassy but continued to give him their support, despite the potential loss of £200,000 in bail money.

Assange’s bail was provided by high-profile supporters including Jemima Khan and film director Ken Loach, who each offered £20,000 as a surety.

Khan wrote on Twitter: “I had expected him to face the allegations. I am as surprised as anyone by this.”

Another backer, the journalist Tariq Ali, told The Independent: “I totally approve.” He asked: “Why the double-standards? A Chinese dissident becomes a folk-hero for reaching the US embassy, but a Western dissident doing the same re a South American embassy is not kosher. Fuck the money.”

Phillip Knightley, the investigative journalist who was among those asked to guarantee the bail surety, said: “When I first heard about it last night, my reaction was one of surprise. Not total surprise because I’d been expecting something like this for a long time.”

Assange had alerted supporters that he would take drastic action following the failure to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden. “He did send an email and said something like this might happen,” Knightley told Radio 4’s The World At One. “He sort of apologised and said ‘don’t worry, it will all work out in the end.’He was reaching the end of the line. He had to make some dramatic move to look after his own future.”

Knightley had agreed to pay £20,000 in the event that Assange breached his bail conditions. He said he was happy to support his fellow Australian. “I would do it again. He felt as I do that he’s a victim of a conspiracy,” he said. “He’s been found guilty of nothing. The Swedes want to plug him in irons as soon as he arrived.”

Bianca Jagger, an Assange supporter who said that she did not post bail, tweeted that the freedom of information campaigner had been “forced to seek asylum.”

But Vaughan Smith, who housed Assange at Ellingham Hall in Norfolk for more than a year, said he was “worried” about losing the bail money he had put up. Smith, who runs the journalists' Frontline Club “had no idea” Assange was planning to claim asylum, and would have advised him not to if he had known.

John Pilger, the documentary filmmaker who helped organise the surety, said Assange could expect a sympathetic hearing from the Ecuador authorities: “The Government expelled the last US Ambassador as a result of reading WikiLeaks cables. They appear to abide by the principles of transparency that he espouses. He has been offered safe passage by other heads of state too.”

Pilger was not warned in advance of Assange’s flight. “It’s a desperate act,” he said. “The last place he wants to be is a small Embassy in Knightsbridge. But Julian couldn’t get the assurances he was seeking that would give him protection against the threat of onward extradition.”