Lawyers for Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who yesterday marked his second anniversary holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, are preparing to file a challenge to his detention order in Sweden in a move that could lift the state of legal limbo in which he is trapped.
Jennifer Robinson, Assange's British lawyer, said the legal challenge, due to be lodged with Swedish courts on Tuesday, was based on "new information gathered in Sweden".
News of the challenge was the first indication in months of any possible way out of the legal deadlock in which Assange has fallen since he took refuge in the embassy on June 19, 2012. Since then, the embassy has been ringed with British police 24 hours a day, at a cost of more than £6 million (HK$78.8 million) to the taxpayer, as the British government seeks to enforce an extradition order to send the WikiLeaks publisher to Sweden.
The Swedish detention order that Assange is now challenging was issued in November 2010. It requires the founder of the free information website to be arrested and extradited to Sweden to face questioning over the alleged sexual assault of two women in that country.
Assange fears that the Sweden case is a pretext for transferring him to the United States, where WikiLeaks sparked an uproar with its publication of thousands of secret documents.
Speaking ahead of the anniversary of his confinement, Assange railed against the US authorities and expressed his support for fellow whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
The 42-year-old has been advising and helping raise funds for Snowden, a former CIA intelligence contractor who released thousands of US secrets last June and has now been granted temporary political asylum in Russia.
WikiLeaks has declined in prominence in recent years, but Assange said it was still working behind the scenes and was not in competition with Snowden.
"Our role this year has expanded in relation to the ongoing protection of Edward Snowden, which I believe shows us working at our best," Assange said.
Assange acknowledged that getting the Swedish investigation dropped was only one part of the legal battle keeping him holed up in the embassy.
"I still have the larger problem, which is that of the United States and its pending prosecution, and perhaps extradition warrant. However, the removal of the Swedish matter will prevent what has been an extremely distracting political attack which has been to try to draw attention away from what is the largest ever criminal investigation by the Department of Justice into a publisher, and into me, personally."
Ecuador accepts Assange's concerns about a US prosecution. President Rafael Correa said this week he could stay in the embassy "for as long as he needs", saying it was up to Britain and Sweden to reach an agreement.
But Britain refuses to allow Assange safe passage out of the embassy, hence the round-the-clock security. A year ago, the British and Ecuadoran governments agreed to set up a working group to find a solution to the impasse, but there has been no sign of progress.
Assange accused Britain of "unilaterally" cancelling the talks following his support for Snowden, although the Foreign Office rejected this.
Last year, Assange described his life as like living on a space station. He said this week he had managed to watch World Cup matches and was naturally supporting Ecuador.
Agence France-Presse, The Guardian