‘EXPOSING war crimes is no crime! – Free Julian Assange!’ shouted over 100 demonstrators opposite Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, demanding his immediate release from custody.
‘Justice for Julian! – free Julian Assange now!’, ‘Julian Assange should do no time! – Telling the truth is no crime!’, they continued, opposing attempts to extradite him to Sweden.
The judge granted Assange bail, but decided that he would be placed under conditions that were described as ‘onerous’ by his lawyer, who said the court wanted ‘£200,000 in cash’.
Assange was told he would also have to wear an electronic tag and his passport was to remain with British police.
But he remained in custody in the event, as the Swedish authorities decided to appeal against bail.
Earlier it was reported that the judge at Westminster Magistrates had granted Assange bail for surety of £240,000, under strict conditions of curfew at the home of Vaughan Smith, owner of the Frontline Club for journalists in central London.
After Sweden’s appeal against bail, Assange was taken back to Wandsworth prison.
Speaking at Tuesday’s protest outside court, Stewart Harrington said: ‘I think the real reason he is being held is that in a war and in an era built on lies, exposing the truth is not wanted.’
Kumra Baser said: ‘It’s the war criminals who should be in the dock: all those who have made decisions to go to war, killing millions of people in Iraq and Afghanistan – and Tony Blair and George Bush are top of the list.’
Linda Catt said: ‘I’ve come all the way from Brighton because I feel very passionate about this and I think Julian Assange is a really brave and heroic man, and Bradley Manning, who we mustn’t forget.’
Like other demonstrators outside the court, her opinion was that the pursuit of Julian Assange was being instigated from America, with the collusion of Britain and other governments.
‘This is critically important because it’s all about suppression of the truth and it’s information which we, the public, have the right to know,’ she added.
‘Justice is on his side and I think a lot of people in Britain support this campaign against secret government and the wars waged in our so-called name and we’re going to put an end to this. It’s just the beginning.’
Marion Brand said: ‘We don’t believe that Julian Assange has committed any crime.
‘We think the timing of his arrest on these charges is very suspicious, especially because they were brought up three months ago in August and then dropped.
‘It seems like an attempt to smear him.’
John Rees, from the Stop The War Coalition, said: ‘We’ve called the protest here today and no doubt others are joining it.
‘The critical question is freedom of speech here.
‘The US government and its allies around the globe are treating Wikileaks as if they’re a terrorist organisation, as if they should be prosecuted.
‘We believe that Wikileaks has done both the population in this country and around the world a service by revealing the real nature of international diplomacy and allowing ordinary people to see exactly what their governments think of each other, and of them.
‘We’re here to demonstrate that the international operations by corporations against Wikileaks are halted and Julian Assange is released from prison.’
Lily David, 17, from North Yorkshire, said: ‘I’ve come down from London because I’m scared of what’s happening, that someone who is showing us what the governments are really doing is being so punished.
‘It’s against civil liberties and I’m ashamed of my government. Free Assange.’
Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, called on the world to help free her son, who was held for a week at Wandsworth prison.
‘He’s been held in the basement of the prison, right in the middle of the prison, in solitary confinement,’ she said.
‘I told him how people all over the world and all sorts of countries were standing up with placards and screaming out for his freedom and justice and he was very heartened by that.
‘As a mother, I’m asking the world to stand up for my brave son.’
Julian Assange was arrested in Britain and refused bail last week after Wikileaks began publishing secret US diplomatic cables from its embassies around the world, exposing Washington’s machinations in the Middle East and around the world.
This followed earlier leaks of US military cables from Afghanistan and Iraq, which show that abuse and torture and killing at the hands of the US-led occupation forces and their local puppets has continued, despite the worldwide outcry that followed the images from Abu Ghraib in 2004.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Sarah Saunders offered £150,000 surety.
John Pilger, Jemima Khan, Ken Loach and Bianca Jagger all appeared at the court to support Assange.
John Pilger told reporters as he left court on Tuesday afternoon that Julian Assange is innocent.
He said: ‘The prosecution, which was always extremely weak, has been seriously challenged by the lawyers.
‘The fact he has been in solitary confinement in Wandsworth prison is a disgrace.
‘He’s now got a whiff of British justice at last and I hope he’ll be freed this evening.’
Pilger added: ‘I spoke to him from prison at the weekend and his state of mind seemed pretty good.
‘He’s in what’s known as a punishment bloc. We’re not quite sure why.
‘He’s an innocent man who hasn’t been charged with anything. It’s a disgrace, what’s going on.’
Pilger said that too many conditions had been attached to Assange’s bail.
‘He should be walking out of this prison now,’ he insisted.
‘The bill has yet to be paid. We’re waiting to see if the appeal is going to be allowed, then there’ll be the question of paying the bail bill.’
Responding to reporter’s questions, Pilger went on to say: ‘Julian has made some very serious enemies – all for the right reasons.’
Vaughan Smith said he didn’t understand why Sweden would appeal ‘when the British court has decided that he should have bail.’
Smith added: ‘I find it odd that they appear to have suggested in a knee-jerk way that it should be appealed.’
Smith said that: ‘I want to make a personal stand for tolerance.
‘It’s huge. It’s not just about press freedom, it’s about the internet. I think we should be very concerned about legislation that will restrict our freedom to operate as journalists.’
He said that Assange had held up a ‘mirror’ to journalists with his pioneering work, adding: ‘A lot of journalists are very concerned that an industry has become more close to power than it would like to have become.
‘He is a friend of mine,’ he said.
Smith was asked by a reporter if he had considered the possible danger of Assange living at his home ‘given the enemies he’s made’.
‘Why should people threaten me? He needs an address, it’s British law isn’t it,’ Smith continued.
He said what Assange’s Wikileaks was doing was ‘seismic, huge’ and hoped it would result in people being ‘better governed’ in the future.
Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens said: ‘He’s been granted bail. There is a problem, he’s been granted bail on condition that £200,000 cash is paid into this court here.
‘That’s a lot of money and it’s a pity he can’t use Mastercard and Visa in order to arrange that.’
He said Assange was being held ‘in Dickensian conditions in a Victorian jail.’
Stephens added: ‘The (bail) conditions are slightly Orwellian in his view.
‘We have any number of enormously brave people willing to give surety.’
These included a ‘Nobel laureate’, film director Michael Moore and the Marchioness of Worcester.
Stephens continued: ‘It is quite difficult to say how long it will be before Mr Assange is out.
‘We have to go round trying to find money in cash,’ he added, saying that because of a sum of £200,000 ‘an innocent man stays in jail’.
He said a Swedish appeal against bail ‘will indicate that this is a persecution and not a prosecution.’
He said ‘onerous conditions have been placed on Mr Assange’s freedom and there is absolutely no fear that he will not abide by those conditions.’
He also said that, ‘We still have not been given the evidence to which Mr Assange is entitled.
‘Mr Assange will have to stay behind bars, either because there’s an appeal or because we haven’t got £200,000 in cash. . .’
A copy of ‘Time’ magazine sent to Assange had been ‘ripped up by the censors’, said Stephens, stating that his client wasn’t getting newspapers or mail in prison.
But Stephens said that Wikileaks was continuing to function despite the ‘editor in chief being indisposed’.