WikiLeaks' Julian Assange happy to be still working from his embassy bed-sit

WikiLeaks founder under virtual house arrest at least has a computer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2012, 3:20am

Living on takeaway meals in a small room with a treadmill to burn off frustrated energy and a vitamin D lamp to make up for a lack of sunlight, Julian Assange has the one material object he values most: a computer with an internet connection.

The WikiLeaks founder took refuge nine weeks ago at Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged rape. Having feared jail, he now finds himself living like a prisoner.

Yet British friend and supporter Vaughan Smith, who hosted Assange at his country mansion for a year during his failed legal battle against extradition, said the Australian was in good spirits and enjoying the virtual freedom of his computer.

"He seemed to be bearing up fine. The key to understanding Assange is that if he's got a computer he's normally happy," Smith said after he visited the embassy, housed on one floor of a red-brick apartment block in affluent Knightsbridge.

"The thing that concerns him most is the possibility he won't be able to work properly - and that's why he seems less keen on prison cells than on embassies."

On Sunday, the world had its first glimpse of Assange since June 19, when he slipped into the embassy. Last week, Ecuador, led by leftist president Rafael Correa, granted Assange asylum - but Britain still plans to arrest him if he tries to leave. Appearing on a narrow balcony to berate the US over what he called its "witch hunt" against his anti-secrecy website, the 41-year-old former computer hacker was in the full glare of the world's media for 10 minutes.

His white-blond hair now trimmed short, he wore an ironed shirt and tie and appeared in good health, if rather tired.

Smith said Assange was sleeping and working in a single small room that looked like someone's office hastily converted into living quarters. He had started out with an air mattress but that had now been replaced by a real bed.

"It's a small room. It has a window, but I wouldn't describe it as airy. I didn't see any kitchen facilities, though I understand he has access to a microwave. He has access to a shower. A supporter gave him a running machine," said Smith.

"The key thing is he can work. He can hold meetings, he can invite some people in. He can do what he needs to do."

Ecuador granted him asylum on the grounds that Assange might be sent from Sweden to the US to face WikiLeaks-related charges. Britain will not let him go to Ecuador from the embassy because its courts ruled he should be sent to Stockholm.

Assange's mother, Christine, said she had received assurances from Ecuador that her son would be made as comfortable as possible during his stay.