LONDON, (AFP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed to clear his name and pursue his work releasing secret documents, as he enjoyed his first day of freedom Friday after being released on bail by a London court.
“I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter and to reveal as we get it – which we have not yet – the evidence from these allegations,” Assange said Thursday on the steps of the High Court where he was greeted by a media scrum.
Assange and his lawyers insist that moves to extradite him from Britain to Sweden to face questioning over allegations he sexually assaulted two women are politically motivated.
Amid a hail of camera flashes outside the London court, Assange thanked “all the people around the world who have had faith in me, who have supported my team while I have been away.”
His website has rocked Washington by releasing hundreds of classified US diplomatic cables, and his supporters have linked his detention to the massive leak.
The 39-year-old Australian arrived later at a country mansion in eastern England, where he will stay while on bail, and spoke of his joy at being released.
“It is very nice to be free for Christmas and to smell the fresh air,” he told reporters, outside the manor house which is a marked difference from the cell in Wandsworth prison where he had spent the past nine days.
But he criticised his stringent bail conditions, which include wearing a security tag and being under the curfew, telling the BBC: “It is a very Orwellian situation when you are under hi-tech house arrest.”
He is staying at Ellingham Hall, a mansion on the 600-acre country estate of Vaughan Smith, an ex-army officer who founded the Frontline Club, the media club in London that is the British base of WikiLeaks’ operations.
Assange will stay there during the ongoing extradition proceedings, which may take months.
The WikiLeaks chief also voiced fears over US attempts to pursue him, saying that he had heard rumours the United States was preparing an indictment for espionage.
“We have also heard today from one of my US lawyers, yet to be confirmed… that there may be a US indictment for espionage for me coming from a secret US grand jury investigation,” he told Sky News.
He expressed fears that the extradition proceedings to Sweden may actually be “an attempt to get me into a jurisdiction which will then make it easier to extradite me to the US.”
Swedish prosecutors have denied the case has anything to do with WikiLeaks.
Earlier Thursday, Assange’s release was delayed by several hours, apparently by haggling over the availability of the 240,000-pound surety which has been put up by supporters including film director Michael Moore.
A senior judge had earlier rejected an appeal by lawyers working on behalf of Sweden to keep him in jail pending extradition.
Assange’s mother, Christine, and supporters including campaigning journalist John Pilger, had packed into the courtroom for the hour-and-a-half hearing along with hordes of journalists.
“I’m very, very happy with the decision. I can’t wait to see my son and to hold him close,” Christine Assange said.
Assange, a former computer hacker, was in court to hear the senior judge reject an appeal against a ruling Tuesday by a lower court that he be bailed.
Judge Duncan Ouseley rejected the prosecution’s argument that Assange was a flight risk, saying: “The court does not approach this case on the basis that this is a fugitive from justice who seeks to avoid interrogation and prosecution.”
The latest US cables to be released by WikiLeaks on Friday show that American officials had evidence of torture by Indian security forces and were briefed by Red Cross staff about the abuse of detainees in Kashmir.
The International Committee of the Red Cross briefed diplomats in Delhi in 2005 about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against detainees, according to the cables, revealed in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.