LONDON — Julian Assange will be freed on bail and sent to stay at a British country mansion, a U.K. judge ruled Thursday, rejecting prosecutors’ attempts to keep the WikiLeaks founder in prison as he fights extradition to Sweden.
Cheers erupted outside the London court as the verdict by High Court justice Duncan Ouseley was reported.
Prosecutors had argued there was a risk the 39-year-old Australian, who faces sex-crimes allegations in Sweden, would abscond if he was freed. But Ouseley said if Assange fled “he would diminish himself in the eyes of many of his supporters.”
“I don’t accept that Mr. Assange has an incentive not to attend (court),” Ouseley said. “He clearly does have some desire to clear his name.”
Assange, dressed in a dark gray suit, smiled and gave a thumb’s up sign to a packed courtroom as he was led from the dock by court guards. It was not immediately clear how long it would take before he was released.
Assange was granted a conditional release on 200,000 pounds ($316,000) bail by a lower court Tuesday, but prosecutors appealed.
Ouseley made some amendments to the bail conditions. Assange must wear an electronic tag, report to police every day and observe a curfew. He also must stay at a registered address – a 10-bedroom mansion in eastern England owned by Vaughan Smith, a WikiLeaks supporter and founder of London’s Frontline Club for journalists.
Assange has been in prison since Dec. 7, following his surrender to British police over a Swedish warrant. He denies any wrongdoing but is refusing to surrender to Sweden’s request to extradite him for questioning.
Lawyers acting for Sweden say Assange is accused of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion by two women for separate incidents in August in Sweden. He has not been charged.
Assange’s lawyers say the allegations stem from a dispute over “consensual but unprotected sex” and argue that he has offered to make himself available for questioning via video link or in person in Britain.
Last month WikiLeaks deeply angered U.S. officials by beginning to publish its trove of 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
Assange’s supporters suspect the claims against him are politically motivated – a charge Sweden has denied.
Assange remained in custody as his lawyers scrambled to assemble the 200,000 pounds bail. Lawyer Mark Stephens said earlier he was confident the amount, pledged by several supporters, could be raised.