It was a race against the clock. Just as the media scrum and the throng of supporters braved the arctic wind outside the high court in the Strand, London, Julian Assange’s lawyers were scrambling to fill in the paperwork following the decision by the judge, Justice Duncan Ouseley, to uphold the decision by City of Westminster magistrates court on Tuesday to free Assange.
Only minutes before the court was due to close, there were still several cliffhangers that kept us supporters guessing. Would the bail money in cash be received and counted on time? Would all the five new people accepted as surety get to the court or to a nominated police station to sign the papers before the deadline? Would Assange be released so he can be driven to his bail address in Ellingham Hall, the country mansion in Norfolk of Vaughan Smith founder of the Frontline club, before his curfew deadline of 10 pm tonight?
The bail conditions were pretty stiff – a £200,000 cash deposit, with a further £40,000 guaranteed in two sureties of £20,000 and strict conditions on his movement. But his guarantors were some of the most solid pillars of the British establishment – former journalist and author of The First Casualty Sir Phillip Knightley; magazine publisher Felix Dennis; Nobel prize winner Sir John Sulston; former Labour minister and chairman of Faber & Faber publishing house Lord Matthew Evans; and Professor Patricia David.
These rich supporters are just the tip of the iceberg. The plight of Assange and the enormous impact by WikiLeaks worldwide mobilised citizens everywhere on the side of press freedom and the right to know what their rulers are doing in their name. A petition calling for Assange’s release gathered 400,000 signatures in one day.
Assange emerged a few minutes after 6 pm flanked by his lawyers. "It's great to smell the fresh air of London again," he said and reserved his warmest words for the British justice system. "If justice is not always the outcome, at least it is not dead yet," he gushed.
The release of Assange this evening is a resounding victory, but the war will be a long one. There are still American legal proceedings being cooked up with rumours that federal prosecutors studying evidence to charge Assange with conspiracy. Until the hearing next February, there is little doubt that the forces wanting to bury him will be working overtime. The news after the court hearing on Tuesday that it was not the Swedish prosecutor but the British Crown prosecution service which was opposing the bail gives a glimpse of the forces at work to get Assange out of the way.