Assange: the WikiLeaks 'witch hunt' must end

Speaking to the public from Ecuador's embassy in London, Julian Assange has called for the US to cease its "witch hunt" against WikiLeaks, and to not prosecute its staff and supporters.

Julian Assange speaks to the public from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
(Credit: Charlie Osborne/CNET)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addressed his supporters and the media on Sunday from his haven in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, just days after he was granted asylum by the Latin American country.

Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden, spoke for 10 minutes before retreating inside the building, and called for an end to the US-led "witch hunt" against WikiLeaks, its staff and its supporters.

He described Ecuador's move to grant him asylum as "courageous", and outlined a number of points he that wishes to see in the future. But one of the stipulations of his asylum is that he is not allowed to give political statements or face a rescinding of his status — a balance he was careful to manage. Assange would have likely had his statement on Sunday vetted by Ecuadorian authorities. With his asylum conditions, it is likely that the Ecuadorian authorities deemed the statement to be non-political.

Assange said that the US must "dissolve its FBI investigation" and pledge not to act against journalists who are "shining the light on the rich and powerful".

"There is unity in the oppression, there must be absolute unity and determination in the response," he added. (WikiLeaks has now posted the full transcript of Assange's address.)

Around 100 UK police officers remain stationed outside the embassy, surrounding the building, should the WikiLeaks founder attempt an escape or venture carelessly beyond diplomatic boundaries.

Last week, Ecuador granted asylum to the Australian national, arguing that the Swedish and UK governments could not guarantee that he would not be transferred to a third country, such as the United States — where he may face prosecution under the Espionage Act, which carries the potential for a death penalty verdict.

Assange spoke on Sunday from within the walls of the embassy close to the ground-floor balcony — around six feet from the ground — so as to remain on Ecuadorian soil.

He also thanked the people of the US, the UK, Sweden and Australia for their support, "even when their governments have not".

"And to those wiser heads in government, who are still fighting for justice," he said, "your day will come."

Two months on

Sunday's press conference marks two months since the WikiLeaks founder entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London on 19 June, breaking UK bail conditions ahead of his planned extradition to Sweden to face questioning over alleged sexual crimes.

A WikiLeaks tweet suggesting that Assange would give a live statement "infront" of the embassy led to speculation that UK police would be able to arrest Assange.

Instead, he spoke from within the embassy, careful to remain on de facto Ecuadorian soil.

The building is made up of a series of converted apartments. Ecuador occupies only the ground floor of the building, and the UK police remain in the hallways and elevators where Ecuador's reach does not extend. Speaking outside or within the doorway of the building would have risked his immediate arrest by UK police.

Baltasar Garzon, head of Assange's legal team and a former Spanish judge, said shortly before Sunday's brief appearance that Assange has instructed his lawyers to carry out legal action to protect the rights of WikiLeaks and "all those currently being investigated".

"Julian Assange is in fighting spirit," Garzon added.

Since Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador on Thursday, the political tension between Britain and Ecuador has heightened and remains tense on both sides.

The UK Government said it would not allow Assange safe passage out of the UK, because it does not recognise the notion of diplomatic asylum.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a press conference on Thursday that no one, "least of all [Ecuador] should be in any doubt that we are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Mr Assange extradited to Sweden".

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office told the AFP news agency on Friday that it was "committed to working with the Ecuadorans to solve this matter amicably".

Assange continues to claim that his extradition to Sweden would merely be a stepping stone to extradition to the US, where he believes authorities are seeking justice after WikiLeaks published more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables in 2010, causing embarrassment for the US and its allies.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters earlier that the US has "not intervened" for now, and said that it is a matter to be resolved by the British, Ecuadorian and Swedish governments, according to Reuters.

Assange also called for the US to release from custody Bradley Manning, the US soldier charged with leaking sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks.

"The Army Private who remains in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, who was found by the UN to have endured months of torturous detention in Quantico, Virginia, and who has yet — after two years in prison — to see a trial, must be released," Assange said. "If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to us all, and one of the world's foremost political prisoners."

Invoking the World Court

Ecuadorian officials said that they may appeal to the International Court of Justice, the so-called "World Court," to prevent Assange from being arrested by UK authorities if he steps out of the embassy.

The "threat" by the UK Government to revoke the diplomatic status of the embassy and storm the building resulted in an emergency meeting of pan-American nations to discuss Britain's escalation in rhetoric.

The move to suggest that the building could have its embassy status revoked by UK authorities — in which it says it has the right to do so — puts the very nature of embassies abroad in jeopardy.

The UK's Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 would allow the UK Government to revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy in the country, but Ecuador claimed that this would be a breach of the Vienna Convention, which first sets out the rules and rights of embassies in host nations.

Hague said on Thursday: "There is no threat here to storm an embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law."

Charlie Osborne contributed to this report.


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