Assange: The WikiLeaks 'witch-hunt' must end

Speaking to the public from Ecuador's embassy in London, Julian Assange calls for the U.S. to cease its "witch-hunt" against WikiLeaks and to not prosecute its staff and its supporters.

U.K. police outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Charlie Osborne/CNET

LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today addressed his supporters and the media from his haven in the Ecuadorian embassy here, days after he was granted asylum by the Latin American country.

Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden, spoke for 10 minutes before retreating inside the building, and called for an end to the U.S.-led "witch-hunt" against WikiLeaks, its staff, and its supporters.

He described Ecuador's move to grant him asylum as "courageous" and outlined a number of points he wished to see in the future. But one of the stipulations of his asylum would be that he is not allowed to give political statements or face a rescinding of his status -- a balance he was surely careful to manage. Assange would have likely had his statement today vetted by Ecuadorian authorities. With his asylum conditions, it is likely the Ecuadorian authorities deemed the statement nonpolitical.

Assange said the U.S. must "dissolve its FBI investigation" and pledge not to act against journalists who are "shining the light on the rich and powerful."

"There is unity in the oppression, there must be absolute unity and determination in the response," he added. (WikiLeaks has now posted the full transcript of Assange's address.)

Around 100 U.K. police officers remain stationed outside the embassy, surrounding the building should the WikiLeaks founder attempt an escape or venture carelessly beyond diplomatic boundaries.

Last week, Ecuador granted asylum to the Australian national , arguing that the Swedish and U.K. governments could not guarantee he would not be transferred to a third country, such as the United States, where he may face prosecution under the Espionage Act , with the potential for a death penalty verdict.

Assange spoke today from within the walls of the embassy close to the ground floor balcony -- around six feet from the ground -- so as to remain on Ecuadorian soil.

He also thanked the people of the U.S., the U.K., Sweden, and Australia for their support, "even when their governments have not."

"And to those wiser heads in government, who are still fighting for justice," he said, "your day will come."

Two months on
Today's press conference marks two months since the WikiLeaks founder entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London on June 19 , breaking U.K. bail conditions ahead of his planned extradition to Sweden to face questioning over alleged sexual crimes.

A WikiLeaks tweet suggesting Assange would give a live statement "infront [sic]"of the embassy led to speculation that U.K. police would be able to arrest Assange.

Instead he spoke from within the embassy, careful to remain on de facto Ecuadorian soil.

Julian Assange at Ecuadorian embassy in London
Julian Assange speaks to the public from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London today. Charlie Osborne/CNET

The building is made up of a series of converted apartments. Ecuador occupies only the ground floor of the building, and U.K. police remain in the hallways and elevators where Ecuador's reach does not extend. Speaking outside or within the doorway of the building would have risked his immediate arrest by U.K. police. 

Baltasar Garzon, head of Assange's legal team and a former Spanish judge, said shortly before today's brief appearance that Assange has instructed his lawyers to carry out legal action to protect the rights of WikiLeaks and "all those currently being investigated." 

"Julian Assange is in fighting spirit," he added.

Since Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador on Thursday , the political tension between Britain and Ecuador has heightened and remains tense on both sides.

The U.K. government said it would not allow Assange safe passage out of the U.K. because it does not recognize the notion of diplomatic asylum.

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a press conference on Thursday that no one, "least of all [Ecuador] should be in any doubt that we are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Mr Assange extradited to Sweden."

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office told the AFP news agency on Friday that it was "committed to working with the Ecuadorans to solve this matter amicably."

Assange continues to claim his extradition to Sweden is merely a stepping-stone to further extradition to the U.S., where he believes authorities are seeking justice after WikiLeaks in 2010 published more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, causing embarrassment for the U.S. and her allies.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters earlier that the U.S. has "not intervened" for now, and said it was a matter to be resolved by the British, Ecuadorian, and Swedish governments, according to Reuters

Assange also called for the U.S. to release from custody Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier charged with leaking sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks.

"The Army Private who remains in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth Kansas, who was found by the U.N. to have endured months of torturous detention in Quantico, Virginia, and who has yet -- after two years in prison -- to see a trial, must be released," Assange said. ''If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to us all and one of the world's foremost political prisoners."

Invoking the World Court
Ecuadorian officials said they may appeal to the International Court of Justice, the so-called "World Court," to prevent Assange from being arrested by U.K. authorities if he steps out of the embassy.

The "threat" by the U.K. government to revoke the diplomatic status of the embassy and storm the building resulted in an emergency meeting of pan-American nations to discuss Britain's escalation in rhetoric.

The move to suggest the building could have its embassy status revoked by U.K. authorities -- in which it says it has the right to do -- puts the very nature of embassies abroad in jeopardy.

The U.K.'s Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 would allow the U.K. government to revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy in the country, but Ecuador claimed this would be a breach of the Vienna Convention that first set out the rules and rights of embassies in host nations.

Hague said Thursday: "There is no threat here to storm an embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law."

Charlie Osborne contributed to this report.

 

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