UK & World News
Julian Assange's Backers Ordered To Pay Up
Nine people who stood as sureties for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange before he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy have been ordered to pay tens of thousands of pounds.
The backers have been told to hand over a total of £93,500 by November 6.
Mr Assange has been in Ecuador's London embassy since June as he attempts to avoid extradition to Sweden.
He fears he will eventually be sent to the US to face questions over his whistle-blowing website.
Ecuador has given him political asylum, but he faces arrest if he steps outside the embassy building.
The nine people agreed to be sureties as part of Mr Assange's bail conditions after he was arrested in 2010 over allegations of sexual offences in Sweden, and again after an extradition order was made in February 2011.
His decision to avoid custody means they now have to hand over varying amounts of money between them.
Vaughan Smith, a friend who put Mr Assange up at his country mansion for more than a year, addressed Westminster Magistrates' Court last week on behalf of the nine, who put up a total of £140,000.
He said all those who offered sureties, of varying amounts, are "convinced that they have done and are doing the right thing".
In his ruling, the Chief Magistrate, Howard Riddle, said he accepted that the nine had all acted in good faith.
"I accept that they trusted Mr Assange to surrender himself as required. I accept that they followed the proceedings and made necessary arrangements to remain in contact with him.
"However, they failed in their basic duty, to ensure his surrender. They must have understood the risk and the concerns of the courts.
"Both this court and the High Court assessed that there were substantial grounds to believe the defendant would abscond, and that the risk could only be met by stringent conditions including the sureties."
Vaughan Smith has been told to pay £12,000, while another three - Caroline Evans, Phillip Knightley and John Sulston - must each pay £15,000.
Five others - Tricia David, Joseph Farrell, Sarah Harrison, Sarah Saunders and Tracy Worcester - were ordered to pay amounts of between £3,500 and £12,000. Mr Riddle said he was taking into account the financial means of the nine when reducing the amount they have to pay.
Mr Riddle added that he saw no difference between Mr Assange taking refuge in the embassy and fleeing to Ecuador, but that he still foresees a "realistic possibility" that Mr Assange will be arrested by police when he leaves the embassy.
"Mr Assange has an obligation to comply with the legal requirements of this country to surrender to the bail granted on terms originally set by the High Court," he said in his ruling.
He added: "In declining to publicly (or as far as I know privately) urge Mr Assange to surrender himself (the sureties) have acted against self-interest.
"They have acted on their beliefs and principles throughout. In what is sometimes considered to be a selfish age, that is admirable."
The UK has told Ecuador that it is obliged to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden. Foreign Secretary William Hague recently held talks with Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino in New York during a United Nations meeting.