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Assange’s celebrity friends pay for his breach

The celebrity backers of Julian Assange will pay £2,40,000 bill for his newly found solace in the Ecuadorian embassy.

LAKSHMAN MENON  LONDON | 24th Jun 2012

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may have found solace in the Ecuadorian embassy in London but his celebrity backers are facing the £240,000 bill for his breaching the terms of his bail. Assange, who sought political asylum in the embassy last week, is now subject to an arrest warrant, even though a spokesman for the Foreign Office acknowledged he is "on diplomatic territory and beyond the reach of the police".

The author, Phillip Knightley, socialite Jemima Khan, journalist John Pilger and film-maker Ken Loach are among those who each pledged £20,000 to help Assange post bail in December 2010 as he fought an attempt to extradite him to Sweden over alleged sex crimes. As part of the bail conditions, Assange was ordered to remain at his bail address between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. but by fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange violated these conditions.

Knightley said that Assange had "sort of apologised" when he emailed him warning that he was about to break bail; but Knightley told the BBC, "I support him because he is a fellow Australian, he is in trouble, his government has abandoned him. I did not think he had any other option."

However, Assange had not warned his other financial supporters. When asked whether she was "on the hook", Jemima Khan tweeted: "Yes. I had expected him to face the allegations. I am as surprised as anyone by this." And Assange's most generous supporter, Vaughan Smith, who housed the WikiLeaks founder for more than a year said, "I was surprised — I'm trying not to think about whether I will or will not lose any money. I hope I won't".

Assange is accused of raping a woman and sexually molesting another in Stockholm. He maintains he had consensual sex with both and that their allegations are politically motivated. Britain's Supreme Court last month ruled that his extradition to Sweden to face these charges was legal. Assange was given until 28 June to ask the European Court in Strasbourg to postpone his extradition on the basis that he has not had a fair hearing from the UK courts.

Officials from the South American nation said Assange would remain "under their protection" while they considered his application, which comes after Ecuador offered him residency in November 2010 and a recent sympathetic interview Assange conducted with the country's President, Rafael Correa, on the Kremlin-sponsored news channel Russia Today. Ironically, Ecuador has a poor history of human rights. Meanwhile, Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of being the source of the secrets revealed by Wikileaks, remains in a military prison as he approaches a court martial in September. The army private, who was arrested two years ago, faces a maximum sentence of life in military custody.

 
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