Julian Assange stepped into the balcony at Ecuador’s embassy in London today to demand the American government’s ‘war on whistleblowers’ must end. He also said he had taken a ‘stand for justice’ and praised the ‘courageous South American nation’ of Ecuador as he spoke from the balcony of its embassy in central London. The 41-year-old was granted asylum by Ecuador on Thursday as he seeks to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual misconduct allegations. Assange already answered questions in Sweden about these allegations.
On August 20, 2010, the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Julian Assange. Karin Rosander, head of communications, says there are two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation. Both women reportedly say that what started as consensual sex became non-consensual. Wikileaks quotes Mr Assange as saying the accusations are “without basis” and that their appearance “at this moment is deeply disturbing”. A later message on the Wikileaks Twitter feed says the group has been warned to expect “dirty tricks”. On the very next day, the warrant was withdrawn by Swedish officials. “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” says one of Stockholm’s chief prosecutors, Eva Finne. Ms Rosander says the investigation into the molestation charge will continue but it is not a serious enough crime for an arrest warrant. The lawyer for the two women, Claes Borgstrom, lodges an appeal to a special department in the public prosecutions office.
On August 31, 2010, Assange was questioned by police for about an hour in Stockholm and formally told of the allegations against him, according to his lawyer at the time, Leif Silbersky. The activist denies the charges. Swedish Director of Prosecution Marianne Ny says she is reopening the rape investigation against Mr Assange, eleven days after a chief prosecutor announced the arrest warrant had been dropped. Ms Ny is also head of the department that oversees prosecution of sex crimes in particular. “There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed,” she says in a statement. “Considering information available at present, my judgement is that the classification of the crime is rape.” Ms Ny says the investigation into the molestation claim will also be extended. She tells AFP that overturning another prosecutor’s decision was “not an ordinary (procedure), but not so out of the ordinary either”.
Now, there are a couple of important facts. The case was “re-opened” as United States officials were seething over the WikiLeaks release of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables. Also, if Assange only wanted to avoid Swedish officials, why would he have asked for Swedish citizenship? On October 18, 2010, his request for Swedish citizenship was denied. No reason is given, although an official on Sweden’s Migration Board tells the AFP news agency “he did not fulfil the requirements”. Assange has claimed that the United States has empaneled a secret Grand Jury intent on bringing him to the United States on espionage charges. Anyone with an ounce of sense sees this as being a very real possibility. Washington’s footprint is massive and U.S. officials want Assange…and bad.
Assange has been trapped in Edcuador’s embassy for almost two months without having been seen or heard from. Hundreds of his supporters had gathered to listen to the Australian as well as vast amounts of global media. There was also about 100 police officers. Assange made his speech from the safety of a small balcony at the Ecuadorian embassy knowing that if he stepped foot outside he would be arrested. During the seven minute speech, he said: ‘As WikiLeaks stands under threat so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our democracies. ‘We must use this moment to articulate the choice before the government of the U.S. Will it revert to the values it was founded on or will it launch off the precipice dragging us all into a dark, repressive world in which journalists live under fear of prosecution.
‘I say it must turn back. I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The U.S. must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks. It must dissolve its FBI investigation and it must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters. ‘The. U.S. must pledge that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the powerful. ‘There must be no more foolish talk about prosecuting any news organsations. The U.S. administration’s war on whistleblowers must end.’ It also emerged today that Assange has instructed his lawyers ‘to carry out a legal action’ to protect his rights. His legal adviser Baltasar Garzon emerged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London this afternoon and said: ‘I have spoken to Julian Assange and I can tell you he is in fighting spirits and he is thankful to the people of Ecuador and especially to the president for granting asylum.
‘Julian Assange has always fought for truth and justice and has defended human rights and continues to do so. ‘He demands that WikiLeaks and his own rights be respected. ‘Julian Assange has instructed his lawyers to carry out a legal action in order to protect the rights of WikiLeaks, Julian himself and all those currently being investigated.’ Assange shot to international prominence in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets – including 250,000 U.S. embassy cables that highlight the sensitive, candid and often embarrassing backroom dealings of U.S. diplomats. As he toured the globe to highlight the disclosures, two women accused him of sex offenses during a trip to Sweden.
Outside the embassy today, Crowds chanted slogans such as ‘I am Julian’, ‘Julian Assange freedom fighter’ and ‘Only one decision, no extradition’ as Mr Assange came on to the balcony wearing a blue shirt, burgundy tie and dark trousers. Militants from anti-capitalist movements such as Occupy and ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous were present. There was also a significant contingent of South American supporters chanting slogans in Spanish. They carried placards with messages such as: ‘You Won’t Stop WikiLeaks – They Changed The World Already’ and ‘Free Press Free Assange’. Tristan, an unemployed 29-year-old, has been camped out in front of the embassy since Thursday to show his support for Mr Assange and WikiLeaks. ‘I will be staying here for as long as it takes,’ he said after the speech.
‘I would like for the British Government to let him (Mr Assange) go to Ecuador or Sweden if the Swedish agree to their original terms and give a guarantee he will not be extradited. ‘He has already asked the Swedish authorities to come here to investigate, he is willing to defend himself against the allegations. ‘All he wants is an assurance he will not be extradited to America just for exposing the truth.’ Laura Mattson, a 29-year-old supporter from London, said she had been greatly impressed by Mr Assange’s words. Asked whether she thought Mr Assange should face the accusations against him, she said: ‘Is it about the charges or is it about silencing WikiLeaks? ‘I think these allegations are just a way of getting to him. ‘I used to take WikiLeaks for granted but now things are getting very serious and I feel I must take a stand,’ she added. Last night, the diplomatic row over Julian Assange escalated when the President of Ecuador warned Britain that any attempt to storm its embassy in London would destroy relations between the two countries.
Rafael Correa used his weekly address to the nation to deliver his strongest warning to Britain yet, describing the UK’s stance as ‘grotesque’ and ‘intolerant’. He said if British police ‘violated Ecuador’s diplomatic mission’ in London it would destroy ties between the two countries. Mr Correa said: ‘The United Kingdom threat would be breaking the law and encroaching on our embassy. I don’t know who they think I am or what they think our government is. But how could they expect us to yield to their threats or cower before them? My friends, they don’t know who they are dealing with.’ The comments are likely to be welcomed on the streets of Ecuador, where anti-colonial feeling runs high. Meanwhile, the country’s position is attracting growing international support.