News / Europe

Assange Calls for US to End 'Witch-Hunt'

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange steps onto the balcony before speaking to the media outside the Ecuador embassy in west London, August 19, 2012.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange steps onto the balcony before speaking to the media outside the Ecuador embassy in west London, August 19, 2012.
Al Pessin
LONDON — WikiLeaks founder and wanted fugitive Julian Assange made a defiant statement from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London Sunday, railing against the United States and other countries he says are persecuting people who exercise their right to free speech. But he did not give any indication of his own plans, as he can not leave the embassy or British police will arrest him.

Assange stood in the doorway of a small balcony to address dozens of supporters and many more reporters and police officers outside. He thanked the supporters, and the government of Ecuador, which has granted him political asylum and refuge in its embassy.

He made no mention of the sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden, for which Britain has agreed to extradite him to face prosecutors' questions. That decision two months ago prompted him to flee into the embassy.

South American foreign ministers are backing Ecuador and its decision to grant asylum to embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy.
 
The ministers of the 12 countries forming the Union of South American Nations issued a statement Sunday expressing solidarity with Ecuador.  The ministers reaffirmed the rights of nations to grant asylum without facing threats from other countries.
But Assange indicated that he believes his legal problems are related to his work as the founder of WikiLeaks, a website which has published thousands of secret U.S. government documents. And he used the spotlight of media attention to make a series of demands.

“The United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks," he said. "The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters.”

He described the WikiLeaks staff as journalists who are “shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.” He also called for the release of U.S. Army soldier Bradley Manning, who is charged with leaking secret documents to WikiLeaks.

Leaking the documents is a crime, but the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of freedom of the press protects journalists and publishers from prosecution.

Assange appeared in a blue shirt and red tie, with his trademark shock of white hair closely trimmed. The tone and content of his statement surprised some observers because under the terms of his asylum in Ecuador he is not allowed to make political statements.

Earlier, his new legal adviser, controversial former Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon, emerged from the embassy and told reporters Assange has ordered his lawyer to take action to protect his rights. But Garzon did not provide specifics. He described Assange as being in a “fighting spirit.”

Assange says he is innocent of the sexual allegations in Sweden, and has offered to be questioned by the Swedish prosecutor here in Britain. But Assange and his supporters are concerned that he could be extradited from Sweden to the United States more easily than from Britain. Still, under European law, he could not be sent from Sweden to the United States without British approval.

Assange has not been charged with any crime in the United States and there is no request to extradite him.

He continues to be essentially stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy. If he leaves the protected diplomatic space, British police will arrest him. Britain has threatened to send police inside if the embassy engages in activity that violates its diplomatic status. But officials have indicated that no imminent move is planned.  Still, the threat has caused an uproar, and Latin American countries are rallying to Ecuador's defense with a foreign ministers' meeting set for this week.

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Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 20, 2012 12:57 PM
All the noise about America and witch hunting is diversionary. If Julian Assange is innocent, why has he been on the run? Why has he refused to go to Sweden to answer the court summons for sexual assault? Why does he wait to raise diplomatic dust for what he claims he's not done? At the moment he's a fugitive and Ecuador - from the lawless bloc - is a collaborator in his crime. Surely his dexterity in pitting head against each other and taking advantage of fragile diplomatic peace between power blocks has reached its wits end. He either hands himself in or be picked like a straying duck.

In Response

by: R.J.H. from: Atlanta, GA
August 21, 2012 6:23 PM
I'm sure there's no chance that the U.S. will demand that he be extradited from Sweden to face "espionage" charges, and possibly the death penalty. No chance at all.

There have been offers to have him return to face the sexual misconduct charges if Sweden agrees to refuse extradition requests from the United States in regards to WikiLeaks and related issues, but strangely... Sweden has refused. Nothing fishy there, right?

In Response

by: AlecWest from: Vader, WA, USA
August 20, 2012 4:18 PM
So you think it's "justice" to arrest a man in July 2010 and not give him his first court hearing until February 2012? That's what the U.S. has done to Bradley Manning, one of Assange's WikiLeaks sources. What "justice" do you think the U.S. has in store for Assange? The reason he hasn't gone back to Sweden is because he knows the charges are trumped up for the SOLE PURPOSE of extraditing him. In Bradley Manning's case, the prosecutor has promised not to invoke the death penalty. The same promise has not been made to Assange.


by: Rebin
August 19, 2012 11:40 PM
He should be extradited to Sweden. According to everyone's measuring Sweden is one of the most democratic countries in the world and has an absolutely independent judicial system.


by: kamil
August 19, 2012 4:10 PM
Assange also spoke on behave of pussy riot. it's striking how voice on behave of pussy riot in the west is strong and clear and its understandable only blind can't see travesty in accusations of hooliganism and religious hatred when it was clear and unambiguous political stance. why in this case voices so muted? manning is real hero is standing lonely against oppressive machinery of the state in search for truth. isn't it the same travesty when he is accused of helping enemies. only united world, without borders could cope with predicaments like this.

In Response

by: bluenorther from: Latvia
August 22, 2012 11:58 AM
Assange hates the USA so much, he is ready to make friends with the communist countries like Russia, Ecuador, Venezuela, to name a few.He is not a good and honest man needing protection.


by: bill reid from: tucson, az
August 19, 2012 12:25 PM
The Brits had no problem stopping Pinochet from being extradited when they were harboring him.He was responsible for thousands of innocent civilian deaths in Chile but was a hack for the colonialist powers that sheltered him.

Manning and Assange are victims of the warmongering neocons in America and are only being persecuted for showing the duplicity of the powerful and the evils of war.

Kudos to Equador for the courage to resist the powerful.


by: Mskitty from: US
August 19, 2012 12:19 PM
All politicians claim they are for transparency, which is true unless it exposes their own conflicts of interest or illegal behavior.


by: AlecWest from: Vader, WA, USA
August 19, 2012 11:47 AM
This entire business reeks of ineptitude. First, the BBC says that both Swedish women told the press that, at first, sex with Assange WAS consensual - that only "later" did it become nonconsensual. Possible? Sure. Likely? I'd sure like to see their bank accounts at the moment they said it "became" nonconsensual. In short, I sincerely believe that these Swedish charges were merely trumped up to discredit Assange. Why? Because Sweden has tough laws that protect whistleblowers (which is why he was in Sweden in the first place) and this type of charge is about the only type of charge that would override those concerns.

Secondly, Assange didn't CREATE the memos he published. They were real. And the responsibilities to protect those memos from public scrutiny belong to the countries where they came from, not to Assange. Never forget that this is an attempt to "kill the messenger" of bad news by the "source" of that bad news.

Journalists publish embarrassing memos and discuss topics that embarrass politicians and governments all the time. When those journalists have powerful backing (ie., Washington Post during Watergate), they get left alone. Only when journalists are seen as vulnerable (Assange) are they gone after.

In Response

by: Rob Swift from: United Kingdom
August 20, 2012 4:05 PM
British Justice is the best that money can buy.

In Response

by: AlecWest from: Vader, WA, USA
August 20, 2012 3:59 PM
Godwin -- I believe the charges against him were trumped up for a reason - to prevent him from being protected under Swedish law which, without the charges, would have protected him. Justice is different all around the world. And the U.S., contrary to popular belief, is not a haven for justice. One of Assange's WikiLeaks sources was a man named Bradley Manning. He was arrested in July of 2010 and didn't have his first hearing until February 2012. And after the hearing, he went back to jail - with a trial supposedly scheduled for next month. We'll see. Do you think Assange is going to be treated with "better" justice than Manning?

BTW, while the prosecutor has promised that Manning would not be subject to the death penalty, the same promise has not been made to Assange. His avoidance of this "justice" doesn't prove him guilty - it proves him smart.

In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 20, 2012 1:12 PM
What makes a journalist strong or weak? Assange should get himself a good lawyer and stand to defend himself in a democracy like USA. He's not asked to go defend himself in Nigeria (Africa) where justice is sold and bought on of business card (complementary card), not in Arab Middle East where justice is based on whether you're moslem or not, or in Iran where justice is a function of whether you support the govt otherwise you'd be branded western spy. USA or Sweden, Assange is assured of fair hearing, unless you're saying too that the democracies are not democracies any more. Let him come off this asylum and stand the trial to prove his innocence. Otherwise his actions prove him guilty as charged.

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