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‘My mind’s not confined’: Julian Assange

One year after taking refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy, the WikiLeaks founder tells AFP’s Katy Lee that he still works every day and that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden should be celebrated as a “hero”.

'My mind's not confined': Julian Assange

When AFP met WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange he was wearing a jacket and tie, but no shoes. If you have not stepped outside Ecuador’s London embassy for a year, shoes are largely pointless.

In an interview to mark this strange anniversary, the man behind the whistleblowing website that unleashed the wrath of Washington insisted diplomats have the potential to end the deadlock that has left him trapped.

Like something out of a spy novel, Assange, a 41-year-old former computer hacker from Australia, walked into the embassy on June 19th 2012 and claimed asylum in a sensational bid to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes.

Ecuador granted his request, accepting his fears that if sent to Sweden he might be passed on to the United States and prosecuted for publishing thousands of classified war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and a cache of diplomatic cables.

But Britain has refused to grant him safe passage to Ecuador. For a year, police have maintained a 24-hour guard at the doors of the embassy – a modest apartment around the corner from the Harrods department store – and are poised to arrest him if he tries to leave.

The last year, Assange says, has been like living on a space station. He has used a sun lamp to make up for the lack of natural light, and exercises on a treadmill.

He has also been getting on with the business of being a thorn in Washington’s side.

“You ask how I deal with the difficulties of being confined. Well actually, my mind is not confined,” he said, leaning back in a chair in the embassy’s tastefully decorated front room.

“The physical circumstances are difficult. However, I’m working every day.”

He spoke as shockwaves reverberated around the world over the biggest US leak since WikiLeaks published the war logs and diplomatic cables in 2010: the exposure of spy agencies’ massive electronic surveillance programmes.

Edward Snowden, an ex-CIA employee who says from exile in Hong Kong that his conscience drove him to reveal the scale of the government’s spying on the public, faces a criminal probe – and Assange fears he will be treated as harshly as WikiLeaks’ leaker Bradley Manning.

“Mr Snowden is as good an example of a hero as any. He has performed an extremely courageous act,” said Assange, hailing him for exposing America’s “creeping mass surveillance state”.

“What we don’t want to see is him ending up the same way as Bradley Manning – detained without trial, abused in prison and now facing life imprisonment.”

Manning, a 25-year-old US soldier, is being court-martialed for passing the war logs and cables to WikiLeaks, with prosecutors arguing that leaking classified information is equivalent to helping Al-Qaeda.

Aiding the enemy can carry the death sentence, though prosecutors are not seeking it in Manning’s case.

“They’re trying to erect a precedent that speaking to the media is the communicating with the enemy – a death penalty offence,” said Assange.

“What’s at stake in this trial is the future of press in the United States and in the rest of the world.”

The name of the silver-haired WikiLeaks founder has come up frequently during the court-martial, which began on June 3rd. He claims there is a sealed US indictment against him, and that his conviction is a “99-percent chance” certainty if he ever ends up on US territory.

Assange’s critics accuse him of hiding from justice over the sex allegations – which he denies – saying his fears of being passed from Sweden to the US are unfounded.

Entering the embassy was the final twist in a long legal battle over the allegations. But Assange claims Britain and Ecuador can reach a deal that will see him leave “within a year”.

“I think the position in the UK is softening. Of course, it will never publicly humiliate the United States by offering me safe passage in a manner that doesn’t seem to be forced,” he said.

“But there’s lots of ways of saving the pride of Sweden, Australia, the UK and the United States,” he added, without specifying them.

He insists Britain is breaking international law by refusing to let him travel to Ecuador as a refugee, but admitted it was difficult to imagine a scenario in which he could leave without being handcuffed.

Will there eventually come a day when he just gives up and walks outside?

“When I’ve had enough? I don’t know. It’s hard to say. At the moment we’re doing such good work,” he said.

Although its recent scoops have been much lower-profile than the cables and war logs, it continues to publish leaks from around the world, including millions of Syrian politicians’ emails and US files on Guantanamo Bay.

Where will he be this time next year? “Hopefully Australia, Ecuador, travelling the world,” Assange said.

AFP/The Local/nr Follow The Local on Twitter

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JULIAN ASSANGE

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer

Julian Assange would cooperate with Swedish authorities if they reopen a rape case against him but will continue to resist any bid to extradite him to the United States, his lawyer said Sunday.

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer
Julian Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson in London on Thursday. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham/TT

“We are absolutely happy to answer those queries if and when they come up,” Jennifer Robinson told Sky News television about the rape claims.

“The key issue at the moment is US extradition, which we have warned about for many years,” she added.

The WikiLeaks founder is in custody in London awaiting sentencing for breaching his British bail conditions in 2012 by seeking refuge in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was arrested at the embassy on Thursday after Ecuador gave him up, and is now also fighting a US extradition warrant relating to the release by WikiLeaks of a huge cache of official documents.

The Australian has always denied the claims of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. The first expired in 2015 and the other was dropped in 2017, but the alleged rape victim has now asked for the case to be reopened.

If Stockholm makes a formal extradition request, the British government will have to decide whether to consider it before or after that of the United States.

Robinson said Assange would seek assurances from Sweden that he would not be sent on to America, saying: “That is the same assurance we were seeking in 2010 and the refusal to give that is why he sought asylum.”

She added: “He's not above the law. Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice or indeed Swedish justice. This case is and has always been about his concern about being sent to face American injustice.”

The US indictment charges Assange with “conspiracy” for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on Department of Defence computers in March 2010.

He faces up to five years in jail.

Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries around the world.

The conspiracy charge against Assange seems intended to sidestep limits on prosecution potentially arising from the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of press freedom.

But Robinson insisted: “This indictment clearly engages newsgathering activities and the kinds of communications that journalists have with sources all the time.”

The lawyer condemned as “outrageous” claims made by Ecuador about Assange's behaviour in the embassy, including that he smeared his faeces on the wall, saying: “That's not true.”

Quito also accused him of failing to care for his cat. WikiLeaks said Assange had asked his lawyers to “rescue him (the cat) from embassy threats” in October, adding: “They will be reunited in freedom.”

Assange's father, John Shipton, on Sunday urged Australia to bring his son home.

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