Assange’s lawyers say they were lied to on effort to prevent bail
Human Rights Watch: Don’t prosecute Assange over cables
British prosecutors, rather than Swedish officials, are behind the effort to keep WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from being granted bail, the Guardian reports.
Assange was granted bail by a London judge on Tuesday, but remained in custody reportedly because of plans by Swedish prosecutors to appeal the decision.
“But today the Swedish prosecutor’s office told the Guardian it had ‘not got a view at all on bail’ and that Britain had made the decision to oppose bail,” the newspaper reported.
“The decision was made by the British prosecutor,” Swedish prosecution service spokeswoman Karin Rosander said. “I got it confirmed by the CPS this morning that the decision to appeal the granting of bail was entirely a matter for the CPS. The Swedish prosecutors are not entitled to make decisions within Britain. It is entirely up to the British authorities to handle it.”
Assange’s lawyers “reacted with shock” the news, the Guardian reports, saying they had been informed by prosecutors it was Sweden who had insisted on the appeal.
British prosecutors will reportedly request that Assange be kept in jail until his extradition hearing is complete.
According to his lawyer, Mark Stephens, Assange is being held in solitary confinement for 23-1/2 hours per day.
“He is in isolation. He doesn’t have access to newspapers or television or other news devices. He is not getting mail, he is subject to the pettiest forms of censorship,” Stephens said.
Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations of sexual impropriety. No charges have been laid against the Internet activist, who has spent more than a week behind bars at this point.
The investigation reportedly circles around allegations that Assange had sex without a condom with two women, something that would result in a civil fine if Assange is guilty. Swedish prosecutors have not said if they plan to pursue more serious, criminal, sex assault charges against Assange.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: DON’T PROSECUTE ASSANGE
As Julian Assange awaits another bail hearing in London on Thursday, a growing group of influential people and organizations is coming out in support of the Internet activist.
The latest to add its voice is Human Rights Watch, which sent a letter to President Barack Obama Wednesday urging him not to prosecute Assange over the leaking of confidential State Department cables.
Assange is facing charges of sexual impropriety in Sweden. He has not been charged, in the US or elsewhere, over the leaked cables.
“Regardless of how one views the intentions, wisdom or strict legality of the WikiLeaks release, we believe that resorting to prosecution will degrade freedom of expression for all media, researchers and reporters, and set a terrible precedent that will be eagerly grasped by other governments, particularly those with a record of trying to muzzle legitimate political reporting,” the human rights watchdog said.
The group also urged the administration to reject bills proposed in Congress targeting WikiLeaks. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the SHIELD Act earlier this month, criminalizing the publication of information that could identify a US intelligence source. A similar bill, introduced by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), is in front of the House.
Critics say the bills would have to change the law retroactively to apply to the WikiLeaks cables release.
The Human Rights Watch appeal comes after a group of prominent Columbia University journalism professors sent a letter to President Obama making similar arguments.
“[W]hile we hold varying opinions of Wikileaks’ methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment,” the letter, signed by 20 professors, states. “Any prosecution of Wikileaks’ staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.”
The letter added: “As a historical matter, government overreaction to publication of leaked material in the press has always been more damaging to American democracy than the leaks themselves.”
An influential journalists’ group in Assange’s native Australia has also come to the Internet activist’s defense. The Walkley Foundation sent a letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard calling the reaction of the US and Australian governments to the leaks “troubling.”
A prosecution of WikiLeaks would be a “serious threat to democracy,” the group asserted. The letter was signed, among others, by the editors-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, Australia’s two most prominent newspapers.