The Cases Against Julian Assange

BY Chris Amico  December 14, 2010 at 12:41 PM EST

WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange was freed from jail Tuesday on $310,000 bail and under strict security rules set down by a British court.

Prosecution lawyer Gemma Lindfield announced prosecutors would appeal the decision to grant bail, but didn’t give reasons. Judge Howard Riddle, who had granted Assange bail under stringent conditions, said he must remain in custody until the appeal is heard within 48 hours.

If released, Assange would be required to wear an electronic tag, live at a registered address, report to police every evening and observe two four-hour curfews each day.

While much of the criticism leveled as Assange stems from WikiLeaks’ ongoing release of a trove of classified diplomatic cables, the Australian’s most-pressing legal trouble has to do with his personal life.

Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden in connection to an accusation of “rape, less serious crime,” the least serious of three tiers of rape under Swedish law. A conviction could carry a two- to four-year prison sentence.

But the case might have gone away had Assange simply returned phone calls over the summer, Reuters reports:

The two Swedish women who accuse WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of sexual misconduct were at first not seeking to bring charges against him. They just wanted to track him down and persuade him to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, according to several people in contact with his entourage at the time.

The women went to the police together after they failed to persuade Assange to go to a doctor after separate sexual encounters with him in August, according to these people, who include former close associates of Assange who have since fallen out with him.

The women had trouble finding Assange because he had turned off his cell phone out of concern his enemies might trace him, these sources said.

Read the whole thing.

All of this is separate from calls in the United States for prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act, which, as The New York Times explains, faces an uphill legal climb:

“There is a haze of uncertainty over all of this,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, an American University law professor who has written about the Espionage Act, a 1917 law that prohibits the unauthorized retention or transmission of defense-related documents.

“The government has never brought an Espionage Act prosecution that would look remotely like this one,” he said. “I suspect that has a lot to do with why nothing has happened yet.”