WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has called on the United States to end what he described as a “witchhunt” against him in a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he is living under political asylum.
Assange, who sought shelter inside the embassy on June 19, was on Thursday granted asylum by Ecuador as he seeks to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual misconduct allegations.
Speaking on Sunday from a balcony off a room in the embassy, Assange thanked Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa for the “courage he has shown” in granting him asylum.
Assange has said his extradition to Sweden is the first step in a process that will see him sent to the United States, where he believes he will be prosecuted for espionage in connection with the volumes of US government documents which WikiLeaks has released.
Britain has vowed not to let Assange leave the country but has shied away from suggestions it could detain him while he remains inside the embassy, though police officers are stationed both outside and inside the building that houses the embassy’s offices.
Ecuador has said it is “deeply shocked” by “threats” to enter the embassy to seize Assange, and neighbouring countries have backed Ecuador in its war of words with Britain.
Foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations bloc strongly supported Correa’s government, saying diplomatic missions must be protected and condemning Britain’s “threat to use force” after the foreign office warned it could raid the embassy.
“We show our solidarity and back the government of the Republic of Ecuador against the threat to violate the premises of its diplomatic mission,” the Secretary-General of UNASUR, Ali Rodrigez, read in an emergency session on Sunday.
Assange also called for the release of Bradley Manning, a US soldier who is awaiting trial after being charged with spying for passing secret files to WikiLeaks.
“If Bradley Manning 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 said. “The US administration’s war on whistle-blowers must end.”
‘Unity in repression’
The 41-year-old Australian also highlighted the cases of Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced last week to three years for participating in “unauthorised” protests, and Russian punk activist group Pussy Riot, whose members were given a two year-sentence for on charges “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.
“There is unity in the oppression,” said Assange. “There must be absolute unity and determination in the response.”
Assange jumped bail and took sanctuary in the embassy after losing appeals in British courts against his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual offences against two women.
Correa says there is sufficient reason to fear Assange would be denied due process in the United States and could face life in prison or even the death penalty.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said his country had not yet decided whether to appeal to the United Nations over the dispute. He said it would await the outcome of a meeting set for Friday in Washington of foreign ministers of the Organization of American States, which includes the United States and Canada.
The US State Department said the struggle over Assange’s status was a matter between Ecuador, Britain and Sweden, and Washington had no plans to interject itself into the dispute.
Assange has not yet been formally charged with any crimes in either Sweden or the US.