Assange marks six months in Ecuador embassy
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange marks six months holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London on Wednesday, with no end in sight to a diplomatic stand-off that has even dragged in pop icon Lady Gaga.
The Australian is due on Thursday to give what the anti-secrecy website billed as a “Christmas speech” in front of the South American nation’s diplomatic mission, next door to the famed Harrods department store.
It will be only his second public outing since he fled to the embassy on June 19 after losing his battle in the British courts against extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Ecuador granted Assange asylum on August 16 but Britain has refused to allow him safe passage, despite Quito’s claims that the 41-year-old needs urgent medical treatment for a lung problem.
For most of the last half year the former hacker has been stuck in a tiny room inside the embassy, which is itself just an apartment inside a Victorian red-brick building in the posh Knightsbridge district.
Assange has nothing but a laptop, a running machine, a sunlamp and a microwave for company, friends have said, while he has described the conditions as like living in a “space station”.
But he has had some celebrity support.
British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood visited him and said she would sell unisex t-shirts with the words “I’m Julian Assange”, with profits going to WikiLeaks.
US pop star Lady Gaga meanwhile had a cosy dinner with the platinum-haired fugitive at the embassy in October – although only after she had first launched her new perfume at Harrods.
Assange received a rock star welcome himself when he was last seen by the outside world, addressing dozens of cheering supporters from the embassy balcony on August 19.
Britain’s Foreign Office said this week that it was “committed to seeking a diplomatic solution” to the stand-off with Ecuador but insisted that it was legally obliged to hand over Assange to Sweden.
“Officials have been in regular dialogue with representatives of the Ecuadorian government, both in London and Quito, to seek a diplomatic solution to this situation. These efforts continue,” it said.
Sweden has said that it will not interfere in another country’s judicial process.
Ecuador, for its part, insists that it is “not asking for the impossible”.
“Our objective is to reach a solution that is satisfactory for everybody, under European, Swedish and British law... but which excludes all possibility of extradition to the United States,” an Ecuadorian government official said.
Assange claims that if he is extradited to Sweden he could eventually be sent to the United States for prosecution over WikiLeaks’ controversial release of secret US military and diplomatic files.
He says he could face life in prison or even the death penalty in the US.
Assange is believed to have sought sanctuary with Ecuador mainly because he had interviewed its leftist, US-baiting president Rafael Correa for a television programme.
British police arrested Assange on December 7, 2010, on a European Arrest Warrant issued by Sweden over allegations made by two women, which Assange denies.
The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of England and Wales which dismissed his final appeal in June this year.
Assange told Belgian radio on Monday that he did not expect any change in his situation until February, when presidential elections take place in Ecuador.
He has admitted the conditions are difficult but has said they compare favourably to those in which US authorities are keeping Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking tens of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks.
He has also been keeping busy, saying that he was working 17 hours a day, seven days a week, while he recently brought out a book called Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.
And if he wins his freedom Assange has another plan: running for a Senate seat in the next year Australian federal election under the banner of a WikiLeaks political party.