Sunday, December 19, 2010

Julian Assange's celebrity supporters stake reputations on case

Julian Assange's celebrity supporters stake reputations on case
Raggle-taggle of 'household names' offered big sums towards WikiLeaks founder's failed bail plea
Helen Pidd
The Guardian, Wednesday 8 December 2010

The already curious case of Julian Assange took another bizarre twist yesterday when the court learned that a raggle-taggle of "household names" were prepared to stake their reputation in his case, offering sureties to the court with a total value of £180,000.

Despite claiming not to know Assange, the film-maker Ken Loach and the socialite and charity fundraiser Jemima Khan stood before Westminster magistrates and offered big sums towards Assange's bail, though bail was later refused.

Offering £20,000, Loach said he did not know Assange other than by reputation, but added: "I think the work he has done has been a public service. I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those that govern us."

Khan offered a further £20,000, "or more if need be".

In a statement later, she said: "I make no judgment of Julian Assange as an individual as I have never met him. I am offering my support to him as I believe in the universal right to freedom of information and our right to be told the truth."

On her Twitter feed last month, Khan asked if Assange was "the new Jason Bourne", a reference to the fictional action hero created by the thriller writer Robert Ludlum. The post has since been deleted.

The journalist and filmmaker John Pilger, who also offered £20,000, said he knew Assange as a journalist and personal friend and had a "very high regard for him".

The largest donation of £80,000 was offered by an unknown American relation who did not want to be named because of fear for his safety.

Patricia David, a professor, and the top lawyer Geoffrey Sheen each offered up £20,000 surety on grounds that they had spent their lives fighting for human rights.

Outside court Pilger said: "This business in Sweden is a travesty; an innocent man has a right to be free.

"Having his freedom taken away is outrageous. Sweden should be ashamed. This is not justice – this is outrageous."

He added: "Behind this he has made a lot of enemies, the principal one being the warmonger, the United States."

Howard Riddle, the judge at the court in Horseferry Road, London, commended four of the sureties for their willingness to help "out of concern for human rights" and without personal knowledge of Assange.

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