- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WikiLeaks founder Julian P. Assange is to remain in a London jail until at least Thursday since Swedish authorities said they would appeal a British judge’s decision to grant him bail with strict conditions.

The news topped a tumultuous day of legal back-and-forth at the central London court, and came as a poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of Americans want Mr. Assange prosecuted by U.S. authorities after WikiLeaks last month began publishing a trove of secret U.S. diplomatic communications — despite a coterie of high-profile supporters he has assembled in Europe.

Mr. Assange, 39, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sexual assault charges, was taken back to Wandsworth Prison on Tuesday afternoon after a hearing in central London. A judge granted him bail on a surety of $316,000, provided he surrender his passport, agree to stay at one address, report to the police daily and wear an electronic tag to ensure his compliance with a curfew and other restrictions.

The ruling was greeted with cheers by a crowd of supporters inside and outside the court, including writers, filmmakers and other celebrities attending to post bail or show their backing for the Australian, the Guardian newspaper reported.

But the crowd’s delight turned to confusion after Mr. Assange’s attorney relayed that a lawyer representing the Swedish prosecutor who wants to question Mr. Assange had said she would appeal the decision.

The judge eventually ordered Mr. Assange held for 48 hours until the appeal could be heard by the High Court.

In a statement Tuesday, the Swedish prosecutor for the first time noted that Mr. Assange might be extradited from Sweden to the United States if U.S. prosecutors bring charges in relation to the leaks of the secret cables.

Mr. Assange’s attorneys have called the Swedish allegations, brought by two women who had sexual encounters with him during an August visit, “holding charges,” and said Swedish authorities are working behind the scenes with U.S. officials to engineer his delivery to the United States.

But Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny wrote on her department’s website that, according to the terms of the special European warrant on which Mr. Assange was arrested, the country that first surrenders him (in this case, Britain) would have to agree to any further extradition.

Sweden cannot, without such consent extradite a person, for example to the U.S.A.,” she wrote.

Swedish authorities “clearly will not spare any expense to keep Mr. Assange in jail,” Mr. Assange’s attorney Mark Stephens said outside the court. “This is really turning in to a show trial.”

In a statement from his cell relayed by his mother to Australian media, a defiant Mr. Assange said: “My convictions are unfaltering. I remain true to the ideals I have always expressed. These circumstances shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct.”

Mr. Assange lashed out at the online financial services firms PayPal, MasterCard and Visa, which cut services to WikiLeaks this month, charging that they had acted as “instruments of U.S. foreign policy.”

“I am calling for the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks,” he concluded.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday shows that 59 percent of Americans think Mr. Assange should face arrest and prosecution by U.S. authorities for publishing the communications, which come from a State Department database.

The poll also shows that a large majority of Americans think WikiLeaks‘ release of the documents has harmed the public interest — 68 percent in the poll, taken over the weekend, compared with 47 percent in August and 53 percent at the beginning of December.

Nonetheless, U.S. authorities will face several hurdles in bringing charges against Mr. Assange, according to former espionage and computer crime prosecutor Mark D. Rasch.

“If you are going to prosecute him, there are several strategies, all fraught with difficulties. … This isn’t an easy case,” he told The Washington Times.

He said the case is an example of the principle that “hard cases make bad law … because whatever law you make in relation to Mr. Assange applies to the New York Times as well.”

The New York Times is one of several media outlets that have partnered with WikiLeaks to release the cables.

The poll demonstrates a widening gap between perceptions of the case; both geographically, between Americans and their allies in Europe, and generationally, between older people and their younger counterparts.

To many young people, especially in Europe and particularly those who see themselves as “netizens” — global citizens of a borderless, online world — Mr. Assange has become something of an icon, a poster child for the principle they hold dear that “information wants to be free.”

The divisions are reflected in the ongoing cyberskirmishes over WikiLeaks, in which supporters have attacked the websites of the group’s presumed enemies, while others have attacked the WikiLeaks site itself.

Media organizations with which the group is working have continued this week to release classified cables from their collection of nearly 250,000, allegedly leaked by Army intelligence analyst Pfc. Bradley Manning. However, no new material has been posted on the WikiLeaks site since Friday.

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