Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange is a notorious figure even now, two years after he disappeared through the doors of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He’s been living inside the building ever since, granted diplomatic immunity by Ecuador in August 2012.
Today, after two years of self-imposed imprisonment, he met with the press to announce that he will be leaving the embassy soon, but —
“…but perhaps not for the reasons that Murdoch press and Sky news are saying at the moment.”
He has admitted to his health problems, but has not mentioned specific illnesses; he is believed to suffer from high blood pressure, heart and lung conditions, and failing eyesight. Life in an air-conditioned environment without exposure to sunlight (which creates vitamin D, a necessary component for good physical and mental health) has caused concerns. Assange has been sleeping in a converted toilet and using an exercise bike to keep himself as healthy as possible within the building.
The Australian activist has no intentions of merely handing himself over to the police. He fears that if he is extradited to Sweden to face questioning in the matter of an alleged sexual assault, he will be then sent to America to face a trial for creating one of the biggest information leaks in U.S. history. His fears may not be unfounded, and he’s unwilling to take the risk.
British police have a 24-hour presence at the embassy, waiting outside for Assange to step through the door and into their hands. According to British news agency The Guardian, that presence, to date, has cost more than seven million pounds of taxpayers’ money.
According to the BBC‘s timeline on Julian Assange’s case, Sweden’s allegations of sexual misconduct started with an arrest warrant for rape and molestation on August 20th, 2010. The arrest warrant for rape was withdrawn within 24 hours after it was issued, with a statement from Eva Finne, one of Stockholm’s chief prosecutors.
“I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.”
But in mid-November of that same year, Swedish police issued an international arrest warrant for Assange through Interpol. He’s wanted for questioning on suspicion of non-consensual behavior within consensual sexual encounters, claims which Assange insists are politically motivated and untrue.
After Assange had been granted bail in December 2010, the courts decided (February 2011) that he should be extradited to Sweden. However, after more than a year of appeals and judicial dismissals, Julian Assange applied for political asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London, setting off a new storm of concerns. The South American country’s foreign minister reported that the embassy in Knightsbridge had been threatened by the U.K. with a revocation of diplomatic immunity if Assange was not handed over.
An offer by Ecuador to allow Sweden’s investigators to meet with the Australian activist inside the embassy was rejected.
Since then, the 43-year-old Assange has lived within the building, cut off from fresh air and sunlight in an effort to prevent himself from being taken by the police.
Assange’s website, WikiLeaks, came to prominence in 2010 when it published U.S. military and diplomatic documents concerning the Afghan and Iraq wars, information which was leaked by U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning). Manning was convicted in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses and is currently serving her sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Considered a hero by some and a traitor by others, Assange began his career as a hacker in 1987 at the age of 16. He worked under the name Mendax with an ethical hacking group called International Subversives where he hacked into the Pentagon and other U.S. Department of Defense facilities.
In mid-July, the Inquisitr reported on Julian Assange’s continuing legal battle to have Sweden’s extradition warrant dismissed, pointing out that the hacker’s lawyers released screenshots of Twitter posts and text messages from the two women who are at the heart of Sweden’s allegations of sexual misconduct. The alleged victims, both volunteers for WikiLeaks, are apparently claiming that they were bullied into filing complaints against Assange.
It is believed that Assange will be arrested upon leaving the embassy; BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman claims that ill health will not stop the extradition.
“It is almost inconceivable that an extradition would be halted on health grounds if that extradition is to a country that is part of the European Arrest Warrant scheme.”
Recent changes to the U.K.’s extradition laws might create a better environment for Julian Assange’s case. The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, has said that Assange will continue to receive protective asylum from his country.
Patino expressed Ecuador’s hopes at the news conference:
“It is time to free Julian Assange. It is time for his human rights to be finally respected.”
There is no word yet on when Assange will leave the embassy.
[Image Courtesy of Reuters/John Stillwell/Pool]