By Anthony Faiola Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 10:39 AM
LONDON – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was set to be released from a British prison after the High Court on Thursday upheld a decision granting him bail and allowing him to retreat to a friend’s rural estate to fight extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.
The terms of Assange’s bail were still being worked out by the court Thursday afternoon and appeared to include posting bail of more than $310,000, a tab being covered by wealthy and high-profile backers including Bianca Jagger, U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore and the British celebrity heiress Jemima Khan.
Assange’s lawyers were in the process of gathering and depositing the funds to gain his immediate release.
“We are utterly delighted and thrilled,” the theatrical Mark Stephens, one of Assange’s lawyers and a well-known figure in London’s legal circles, said on the courthouse steps. “He will not be going back to that Victorian prison; he will not be going back to that cell once occupied by Oscar Wilde.”
Although it was unclear when exactly Assange would emerge from London’s Wandsworth Prison, the court’s ruling marks a victory for Assange in his bid to counter a warrant to bring him to Sweden for questioning on alleged sex crimes.
Assange, whose WikiLeaks Web site has released thousands of classified U.S. government cables on the Internet, has denied the sex-crime allegations, suggesting they are part of an elaborate plot with the United States to silence his crusade against state secrecy.
Nevertheless, the ruling amounts to a beginning, rather than end, to Assange’s legal troubles. He must now prepare for a full extradition trial in February.