Celebrities show support for Assange

By Terri Judd, Cahal Milmo

The diminutive figure of Bianca Jagger pushed her way through the scrum as a man with a megaphone repeated "exposing war crimes is no crime" and hundreds chanted back "free Julian now".

If ever the Swedish or United States authorities thought they could slip Julian Assange out of Britain quietly, yesterday proved how wrong they were.

Hundreds gathered outside the City of Westminster magistrates' court to hear that he had been granted bail. It was, the banners proclaimed, "democracy on trial".

Assange's status as a global cause celebre was underlined by the succession of prominent figures who made their way to court to pledge moral and financial support for him - including Jemima Khan, John Pilger, Ken Loach, Tariq Ali and Hanif Kureishi. Pledges of cash were also received from sources as diverse as American film director Michael Moore and the Marchioness of Worcester, Tracy Louise Ward.

Assange looked pale and exhausted as he emerged into the tiny Court One.

The 39-year-old spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth and address in Australia.

His mother, Christine, sat nearby during the hour-long hearing.

Journalists tapped busily on smartphones, normally banned from such hearings, after District Judge Howard Riddle took the unprecedented decision to allow them to tweet from the proceedings. It seemed fitting in the case of a man who had achieved fame with leaks on the web.

Gemma Lindfield, for the Swedish authorities, reiterated their claim that Assange - whom they want to extradite over claims that he sexually assaulted two women - was a flight risk.

But Captain Vaughan Smith, former Grenadier Guards officer and founder of the journalists' Frontline Club, insisted Assange was "a very honourable person, hugely courageous and self-deprecatory" as he offered a surety of £20,000 ($42,000) and residence at his estate in Suffolk.

Outside, Khan and Pilger paced expectantly. "The whole thing is bizarre and absurd," said the campaigning journalist.

Yesterday Riddle imposed stringent conditions on his release, including a demand he surrender his passport and wear an electronic tag while living on Smith's estate. In addition, Assange and his supporters were ordered to provide £200,000 in cash along with £40,000 to be pledged as security.

As the judge granted conditional bail, Assange relaxed while cheers from the court were matched by a similar explosion outside. But two hours later he was said to be "phlegmatic" as he was returned for another night in jail after Swedish prosecutors appealed.

His solicitor Mark Stephens reacted angrily: "The Swedes will not abide with the umpire's decision and they want to put Mr Assange through yet more trouble ... This is really turning into a show trial."

Outside court, Hazel Sabey said: "It is not just about one man on trial, it is about freedom and civil liberties."

A hearing in the High Court is likely to take place within days.

Campaigners accused the Swedish authorities of bringing a politically motivated case, following the release of more than 250,000 American diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks.

Stephens said his client was being held in "Orwellian" conditions in prison, with only 30 minutes a day of free movement, and rigorous censorship of his mail and communications.

"Julian has absolutely no access to any electronic equipment, no access to the outside world, no access to outside media. Until the court is in possession of £200,000 in cash, an innocent man stays in jail."

- Independent

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