Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, said the U.S. must end its “witch hunt” against whistle-blowers and release a soldier accused of leaking classified information.
Assange, making a televised statement yesterday from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in central London, said threats to prosecute whistle-blowers were “foolish.” It was the first public appearance in two months for Assange, who was granted asylum by Ecuador on Aug. 16.
“I ask President Obama to do the right thing,” Assange said. “The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks. The United States must vow it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters. The U.S. administration’s war on whistle-blowers must end.”
The 41-year-old Australian sought asylum inside the building on June 19 after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avert extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation. Assange has refused to go to Sweden, citing concern that he would be extradited to the U.S. for releasing diplomatic secrets, and London police have said they will arrest him if he leaves the embassy.
Assange drew renewed attention to the case of Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army soldier who has been in detention for more than two years facing a court martial on charges that he leaked classified information published on the WikiLeaks website.
“If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero and an example to all of us and one of the world’s foremost political prisoners,” Assange, dressed in a blue shirt and tie, said yesterday to cheering supporters gathered outside the embassy. “Bradley Manning must be released. On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day of detention without trial. The legal maximum is 120 days.”
Reporters and supporters, many of whom had waited since 8 a.m. and sat through a brief rain shower before Assange spoke in mid-afternoon, were barricaded together across the street and separated from the building by a line of about three dozen police. The embassy is near the Harrods department store in London’s Knightsbridge district.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino earlier told reporters in Quito that the evidence “backs up Julian Assange’s fears that he is a victim of political persecution.” President Rafael Correa granted him asylum on condition he didn’t make political statements from the embassy.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Aug. 16 that Britain doesn’t recognize the concept of “diplomatic asylum” and won’t allow Assange safe passage out of the country. Ecuador had accused the U.K. of threatening to “assault” its embassy in London and arrest Assange. Foreign ministers from Latin American states are due to meet on Aug. 24 in Washington to discuss the issue.
“If the U.K. didn’t throw out the Vienna Convention the other night, it’s because the world was watching, because you were watching,” Assange said, thanking his supporters.
Ecuador said it may seek arbitration from the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
“We think one of the resources we could use is The Hague tribunal,” Patino said in a statement published yesterday in the South American nation’s presidential gazette. “The Hague is the step that Ecuador naturally would call for help to attempt a judicial solution for the differences we have with the U.K.”
The Swedish claims against Assange became public around the same time he posted classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks, creating controversy for President Barack Obama’s administration. Assange argues Sweden fabricated the arrest warrant to assist the U.S. in punishing him.
The U.K. Court of Appeal ruled in November that he should return to Sweden to face the sexual molestation allegations. He hasn’t been charged with a crime. The two women who accused Assange of sexual misconduct are both supporters of WikiLeaks and let him stay at their homes during a speaking tour in 2010.
His legal adviser, Baltasar Garzon, yesterday told reporters in London that Assange had instructed his legal team to take action to protect himself and WikiLeaks.
“Julian Assange has always fought for true justice, has defended human rights and will continue to do so,” Garzon said. “He has instructed his lawyers to carry out a legal action in order to protect the rights of WikiLeaks.”