WikiLeaks founder wins fight to be released from UK jail

Julian Assange has beaten an appeal from UK prosecutors to keep him jailed, pending an extradition hearing

London's High Court ruled Thursday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be freed if he posts £240,000 ($US384,000) in bail, rejecting prosecutors' appeal that he be imprisoned pending a January extradition hearing, according to the BBC.

Assange was granted bail on Tuesday in Westminster Magistrates Court on the conditions that he surrender his passport, wear an electronic tracking tag, regularly check in with police and adhere to a curfew. The Crown Prosecution Service, however, appealed the ruling, maintaining that Assange should remain in custody. In a statement, the Swedish Prosecution Authority affirmed that it was the U.K., not Sweden, that appealed.

Prosecutors argued that Assange has few ties to the U.K, travels frequently and represents a flight risk. He has remained in jail since Dec. 7.

Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning related to sexual assault allegations from two women stemming from two incidents in the country in August. According to the Metropolitan Police, Assange is accused of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape.

Assange has denied the allegations, maintaining that his contact with the women was consensual. He and his lawyers have said they believe the pursuit for Assange is related to WikiLeaks' ongoing release of U.S. diplomatic cables, which has angered the U.S. government.

Journalists and spectators convened en masse for Assange. Although Westminster Magistrates Court allowed reporters to use Twitter from the courtroom -- a deviation from the norm since courts regularly tell spectators to turn off their mobile phones -- Justice Duncan Ouseley did not allow reporters to use Twitter during Assange's latest hearing, according to The Guardian newspaper, which ran a live blog of the proceedings.

The U.S. Attorney General's office is investigating Assange but has yet to charge him. It has raised questions over whether Assange could eventually be extradited to the U.S. from Sweden. Sweden's prosecutor's office addressed that scenario in its statement, saying that an extradition request from the U.S. would require the consent of the U.K.

Assange is scheduled for an extradition hearing in the U.K. on Jan. 11. His attorney, Mark Stephens, said Thursday the bail money for his release appears to have been raised.

While Assange remains under intense pressure, the U.S. Army has charged a soldier believed to have leaked the cables to WikiLeaks.

Private First Class Bradley E. Manning is charged with mishandling and transferring classified information in connection with the cables. He is also believed to be the source of video of an Apache helicopter shooting civilians in Iraq, which was also released on the whistle-blower website.

As of Thursday, WikiLeaks has published about 1,600 of more than 250,000 cables in its archive.

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Jeremy Kirk

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