WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was today freed from custody after being granted bail at the High Court in London.
A senior judge rejected an appeal against a lower court’s decision earlier this week to release Assange on conditional bail pending moves to extradite him to Sweden.
The 39-year-old whistleblower is wanted in Sweden for alleged sex offences.
Standing in the driving rain outside the High Court a small group of Assange’s supporters shrieked with delight at news of the ruling.
They shouted: “Exposing war crimes is no crime.”
As he left the court, novelist Tariq Ali said Assange smiled as he was told he would be released on bail.
Ali said: “The atmosphere in court was one of general relief and smiles all around, apart from on the faces of the prosecution.
“Mr Assange smiled as well. His mother looked very relieved. He has been put through it so I think things are clearer now than after the last decision.
“All in all, it has been a good morning.”
Gemma Lindfield, appearing for the Swedish authorities, told the judge there was “a real risk” that Assange would abscond if granted bail.
Lindfield said there were “strong reasons” to believe he would fail to attend court for the full duration of the extradition hearing and to surrender to police if extradition was ordered.
She described Assange as living a nomadic lifestyle with no significant ties in the UK, and those offering to provide sureties had not known him long.
Given the extent of his support as the founder of WikiLeaks, he had “the means and ability” to flee the country, or go into hiding in the UK.
Supporters who might lose money as sureties if he were to abscond could regard that as “money lost for the cause”, said Lindfield.
Rejecting her submissions and ordering conditional bail, the judge described how, shortly after he arrived in the UK from Sweden, Assange had been aware that the allegations against him in Sweden were still live.
He had made arrangements for his solicitors to be his point of contact with the Metropolitan Police so that, in the event of a search warrant being issued, the police would not have to search for him.
The judge said: “That is not the conduct of a person who is seeking to evade justice.”
Leaving court, veteran journalist and campaigner John Pilger said: “The fact that Julian Assange was refused bail was a gross injustice that has been corrected today, at least in a limited way.”
He said: “There’s no doubt that he is not going to abscond.
“The police have known where he has been since the day he arrived. He’s never been a fugitive, that’s been a media story.
“I think most people were pleased at the news… the prosecutor wasn’t, obviously. I thought the case she presented was extremely weak.”
The judge rejected Lindfield’s argument that no bail conditions could meet the risk of Assange absconding.
He described Assange as “a well-known face” who clearly wanted to clear his name; otherwise the sex charges would always be hanging over him.
The judge said one thing that had troubled him was whether his supporters would regard his work for WikiLeaks as something which would be advanced by avoiding the trial process.
But the proposed stricter bail conditions, including the posting of a £200,000 cash deposit and an increased number of sureties, made it appropriate to grant bail.
If there were any significant changes, an application could be made to revoke bail.
The judge added that an important point, if correct, in assessing Assange’s “attitude” to bail was that there were “two views” being taken in Sweden on the strength of the prosecution case against him.
“For these reasons, I shall grant conditional bail,’he added.