Published October 03, 2012
LONDON – Supporters of Julian Assange are waiting to find out if they will lose the 140,000 pounds ($225,000) they put up in bail surety money because the WikiLeaks founder has sought political asylum in Ecuador's Embassy in London.
Assange, 41, has been holed up in the embassy since June 19 as part of his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sex-crimes allegations.
The Wikileaks founder and his supporters claim that the Swedish sex case is part of a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the United States over his work with WikiLeaks, which has published thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables and other documents. Both Sweden and the U.S. reject that claim.
By seeking refuge in the embassy, Assange breached his British bail conditions.
In a brief hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Wednesday, nine Assange supporters were told a decision will be made "in a few days" about what happens to their money.
Among them was former BBC journalist Vaughan Smith, who hosted Assange at his country house for more than a year as the Wikileaks founder fought extradition.
Smith told the court that he and Assange's other supporters are "convinced that they have done and are doing the right thing" and that they should not be punished for trying to "serve the public interest" in the case.
"We never envisaged when we agreed to become sureties that the matter would become a diplomatic argument and it is clear that this needs to be resolved at a governmental level," he told Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle. "We request that sureties in this case be treated gracefully, in a manner that reflects the impossible position that we are in."
Smith said the group of Assange backers at risk of losing their sureties had agreed they should not urge Assange to vacate the embassy just to save their money.
"That would render us mercenary and contemptible individuals of great weakness of character. It cannot be the right thing for us to do," he said.
The other backers of Assange include retired professor Tricia David, Nobel Prize-winning scientist John Sulston, journalist Philip Knightley, Lady Caroline Evans, friend Sarah Saunders, Joseph Farrell, Sarah Harrison and Tracy Worcester.
Riddle said he has a "fair amount to think about" and will make a decision in a few days.
Talks between British and Ecuadorean officials to resolve the deadlock over Assange's fate have not been fruitful. British officials say Assange will be arrested if he steps outside the embassy.
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at htpp://twitter.com/CassVinograd