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Celebs mark Assange’s fifth year in embassy

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange starts his fifth year camped out in the Ecuadoran embassy in London on Sunday, an occasion his supporters intend to mark with events celebrating whistleblowers.

Celebs mark Assange's fifth year in embassy
Julian Assange addresses supporters such as Yanis Varoufakis at the launch of the Democracy in Europe Movement in February. Photo: Tobias Schwartz/AFP
Supporters said they were planning to stage songs, speeches and readings in several European cities.
   
Assange, 44, is wanted for questioning over a 2010 rape allegation in Sweden but has been inside Ecuador's UK mission for four full years in a bid to avoid extradition.
   
The anti-secrecy campaigner, who denies the allegation, walked into the embassy of his own free will on June 18, 2012, with Britain on the brink of sending him to Stockholm, and has not left since.
   
His lawyers say he is angry that Swedish prosecutors are still maintaining the European arrest warrant against him.
   
The Australian former computer hacker fears that from Sweden he could be extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks' release of 500,000 secret military files, where he could face a long prison sentence.
   
Listed participants in Sunday's anniversary events include Patti Smith, Brian Eno, PJ Harvey, Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Ai Weiwei, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Moore and Ken Loach.
 
Croatian philosopher Srecko Horvat, an event organiser, said: “We live in a critical time. We are gathering all around the world on June 19 to speak out for Julian, because he has spoken out for all of us.”
   
Veteran leftist film-maker Loach said Britain's legal system was “being manipulated to keep a brave man in isolation” and that “all who care about freedom of information should demand that the threats made against Julian should be lifted.
   
“He should be able to leave his place of safety without fear of deportation or being handed over to those who intend him harm.”
   
A hero to supporters and a dangerous egocentric to detractors, Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and has been portrayed in two movies in recent years.
   
Assange has compared living inside the embassy — which has no garden but is in the plush Knightsbridge district, near Harrods department store — to life on a space station.
   
His 15 feet by 13 feet (4.6 by 4 metre) room is divided into an office and a living area. He has a treadmill, shower, microwave and sun lamp and spends most of his day at his computer.
   
He got a cat in May to give him some company.
 
Last month a Stockholm district court maintained a European arrest warrant against Assange, rejecting his lawyers' request to have it lifted.
   
“The court considers that Julian Assange is still suspected of rape… and that there is still a risk that he will abscond or evade justice,” it said in a statement.
   
Assange will appeal the ruling, one of his Swedish lawyers, Per Samuelsson, told AFP.
   
“He is not surprised but very critical and angry,” he said.
   
Assange's lawyers requested the lifting of the warrant after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a non-binding legal opinion on February 5 saying his confinement in the Ecuadoran embassy amounted to arbitrary detention by Sweden and Britain.
   
London and Stockholm have angrily disputed the group's findings.
   
The alleged crime dates back to 2010 and the statute of limitations expires in 2020.
 
Assange is calling for Britain to leave the European Union in Thursday's referendum on its membership of the bloc.
   
He alleges that British authorities “repeatedly use the EU as political cover for its own decision-making”, highlighting the European arrest warrant.

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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