WikiLeaks' Assange calls for end to 'witch hunt' from embassy balcony
Speaks from Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum
By Marc Ferranti and Mikael Ricknäs | Published: 12:30, 20 August 2012
Speaking from a balcony at the Ecuadorian embassy where he has sought asylum, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange yesterday called on governments to stop persecution of political whistle blowers and gave no indication that the stalemate over his extradition from the UK to Sweden, where he faces allegations on sexual offenses, would end soon.
Dressed in a blue button-down shirt and a red tie, Assange looked out over a throng of supporters and police in front of the embassy to deliver about 10 minutes of remarks, first addressed to those on scene and then to political figures including US President Obama.
"I am here today because I cannot be there with you today, but thank you for your resolve, for your generosity of spirit," Assange said.
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"On Wednesday night after a threat was made on this embassy and police descended on this embassy, you came out to watch over it."
Assange said that he could hear police swarming up through the fire escapes of the embassy, and said "If the UK did not throw away the terms of the Vienna convention it was because the world was watching and the world was watching because you were watching."
"As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all of our societies," Assange said.
Assange went on to call for the release of Bradley Manning, the US intelligence analyst accused of leaking masses of confidential information to WikiLeaks, who is currently in military prison.
"I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks," he said. WikiLeaks workers and supporters and members of the media including journalists at the New York Times - which worked with WikiLeaks to publish US documents - should not be prosecuted, Assange said. He called on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to halt any investigation related to Wikileaks they may be carrying out.
To date however, no journalist or member of WikiLeaks has been indicted in the US in a WikiLeaks-related case, although there have been media reports, unconfirmed by government officials, that a grand jury was convened to look into a WikiLeaks-related case. US grand juries are convened to establish whether there is enough evidence in a case so that prosecution may go forward. Grand jury evidence is not made public.
Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy since June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual offences.
However, Assange and his advisors have said that once in Sweden, he could then be extradited to the US, where he has said he believed authorities want to put him on trial for publishing diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks in 2010.
Sweden's Ministry of Justice said it has not received any request for Assange's extradition to the US - the case against him only concerns offences committed in Sweden.
On a more personal note, Assange also asked his children for forgiveness because of his long absence, and said they will be with each other soon. However, that doesn't seem very likely at this point, unless they come to him.
Ecuador granted Assange asylum on Thursday but the UK has refused to grant him passage to Quito because the government is under obligation to comply with court rulings and send him to Stockholm.
There has been no sign of an end to the stalemate, though Assange Sunday said Latin American foreign ministers will be meeting to discuss his situation.