LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared Tuesday in a London court, seeking bail to get out of a British jail as he fights a Swedish request to extradite him in a sex-crimes investigation.
The 39-year-old Australian was brought into court in a prison van before the hearing as supporters and journalists gathered in the street and in the courtroom.
The City of Westminster Magistrates’ court was packed with lawyers, journalists and celebrities, including filmmaker Ken Loach and socialite Jemima Khan who have both offered to contribute 20,000 pounds ($31,500) each in bond for Assange.
Assange is wanted for questioning after two women accused him of sexual misconduct in separate encounters in Sweden over the summer. Lawyers for Assange say he denies the allegations and will contest Sweden’s attempt to extradite him for questioning.
Assange was placed into custody at a hearing a week ago after surrendering to Scotland Yard to answer a Swedish arrest warrant.
Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said his client would offer to be electronically tagged and stay at an address known to the police.
“One’s never going to count one’s chickens until they’re hatched, but I hope that in these circumstances the district judge will feel confident” granting bail, Stephens told Sky News.
Gemma Lindfield, appearing for the Swedish authorities, asked the court to deny Assange bail.
“This is not a case about WikiLeaks, rather a case about alleged serious offenses against two women,” she said.
Lindfield said the allegations were serious, while Assange had only weak ties to Britain and “the means and ability to abscond.”
Assange is being represented in court by Geoffrey Robertson, a former appeals judge at the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone who specializes in freedom of speech cases. Robertson’s former clients include author Salman Rushdie.
Some Assange supporters suspect the extradition request has been motivated by WikiLeaks’ decision last month to begin publishing a trove of 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables, something Swedish officials have denied.
“It is too much of a coincidence,” said protester Alex Potterill, 33. “This is an attack on the valuable work of WikiLeaks. It is an attempt to gag a valuable source of information.”
Assange remained defiant in comments from prison relayed Tuesday by his mother. Australia’s Seven network said Christine Assange spoke to her son for 10 minutes and asked him, at the network’s request, whether it had been worth it.
“My convictions are unfaltering,” the network quoted Julian Assange as saying. “I remain true to the ideals I have expressed. This circumstance shall not shake them. If anything, this process has increased my determination that they are true and correct.”
The WikiLeaks disclosures, which have continued since Assange was detained in prison, have deeply angered U.S. officials, who claim that other countries have already curtailed their dealings with the U.S. government as a result.
Assange’s Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, claims the courts are stacked against defendants in sex cases in Sweden. However, a 2009 European Commission-funded study found only 10 percent of sex offenses reported in Sweden result in a conviction.
A decision on whether to extradite Assange is expected to take several weeks. Both Assange and the Swedish government are entitled to appeal against the ruling if the judge rules against them.
Britain’s national security adviser said Monday that U.K. government websites could be attacked in retribution if Assange is not released. Online “hacktivists” have already launched cyber attacks on companies that cut ties to WikiLeaks, including MasterCard Inc., Visa Inc. and PayPal Inc.
In his statement Tuesday, Assange called those companies “instruments of U.S. foreign policy.”
“I am calling on the world to protect my work and my people from these illegal and immoral attacks,” he was quoted as saying.