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article imageAssange's guarantors ask for halt of £140,000 bail payout

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By Anne Sewell     Oct 4, 2012 in World
London - There were nine, high-profile supporters, who put up bail guarantees for Julian Assange. In court on Wednesday, they said they should not now be forced to pay this bail.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012. He initially skipped bail, by escaping house arrest and seeking asylum at the embassy, after losing his appeal against extradition to Sweden. There are fears that should he be extradited to Sweden, he would then be passed on to the US on espionage charges.
Assange has since been granted that asylum, but cannot leave, as the UK will not grant him safe passage to travel to Ecuador. At one stage, the UK caused a diplomatic row, by threatening to storm the embassy to arrest Assange, but this threat was later withdrawn.
So far, several high-profile Assange supporters, including journalist John Pilger, socialite Jemima Khan and film director Ken Loach, have already lost £200,000 (over $320,000) that they handed in to bail out Assange. The court ruled this money should be forfeited when Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
On Wednesday, Westminster Magistrates' Court was set to rule on whether the nine other supporters should lose a further £140,000 (around $225,000) which they had offered as "surety" for Assange's bail. In September, these sureties were reportedly given a month to persuade Assange to hand himself into the police, if they wanted to avoid payment.
However, on Wednesday the group, which includes actress Marchioness Tracy Worcester and Nobel prize-winning biologist Sir John Sulston, told judges that such a move would render them “mercenary and contemptible individuals of great weakness of character.”
Vaughan Smith, who addressed the court on behalf of the sureties, said to the chief magistrate, Howard Riddle, "We never envisaged when we became sureties that the matter would become a diplomatic argument and it is clear that this needs to be resolved at diplomatic level."
Reading from a statement prepared by the guarantors, Smith further said, "The fact is that Mr Assange has secured sanctuary as a political refugee in a country with which Great Britain has an established and normal diplomatic relationship. How can this fact have no legal standing?"
"We all want Mr Assange to be able to clear his name and have done everything with our diminishing influence to see the current impasse resolved and justice served," he added.
According to Henry Blaxland, lawyer for some of the guarantors, including Sulston, and Australian-born journalist Phillip Knightley, the case was "wholly exceptional" because Assange was claiming asylum when he broke bail.
The group requested that they keep the money, despite the fact that they could not influence Assange to surrender to the police. The Magistrate has said that a ruling will be delivered in a few days, after considering other evidence.
RT lists Assange's guarantors as follows:
1. Professor Tricia David: £20,000
2. Lady Caroline Evans, personal friend: £20,000
3. Joseph Farrell, WikiLeaks assistant: £5,000
4. Sarah Harrison, WikiLeaks assistant: £5,000
5. Philip Knightly, former Sunday Times journalist: £20,000
6. Sarah Saunders, catering manager: £20,000
7. Captain Vaughan Smith, Frontline Club founder: £20,000
8. Sir John Sulston, Nobel prize-winning biologist: £20,000
9. Tracy Worcester, model and actress: £10,000
Regarding Assange's stay in the Ecuadorian embassy, Foreign Secretary William Hague said last week that there was still “no sign of any breakthrough” after meeting with Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Ecuador recently stated that it wished to transfer Assange to its embassy in Sweden, under their full protection, so that he could be questioned relating to the alleged sex charges in that country.
However, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa stated on Tuesday that first Stockholm must guarantee that Assange will not be transferred to the US once he sets foot in Sweden, as the US views him as an “enemy of the state” over his WikiLeaks activities and he might then face the death penalty on espionage and terrorism charges.
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