Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spoke in public on Sunday for the first time in months. He addressed a large crowd of supporters from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum.
“I am here because I cannot be closer to you,” Assange said in reference to the threat from police of arrest for breaching his bail conditions. “Thank you for being here. Thank you for your resolve and your generosity of spirit.”
Comparing himself to Russian punk band Pussy Riot and the New York Times newspaper as also deserving protection from oppression, Assange said the United States risked dragging the world into a dangerous era in which journalists would fall silent. According to Reuters, he did not mention the rape allegations.
“As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all of our societies,” Assange said, dressed in a maroon tie and blue shirt, and flanked by the yellow, blue and red Ecuadorean flag. Dozens of British policemen lined up on the pavement below.
He told the cheering crowds, when he emerged at 2.20pm: “On Wednesday night, after a threat was sent to this embassy and the police descended on the building, you came out in the middle of the night to watch over it and you brought the world’s eyes with you.
“Inside the embassy, after dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up into the building through the internal fire escape. But I knew that there would be witnesses. And that is because of you.”
He continued: “If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night, it is because the world was watching. And the world was watching because you were watching.”
“The next time somebody tells you that it is pointless to defend the rights we hold dear, remind them of your vigil in the dark outside the Embassy of Ecuador, and how, in the morning, the sun came up on a different world, and a courageous Latin American nation took a stand for justice.”
Assange thanked Ecuador for granting him asylum: “And so, to those brave people: I thank President Correa for the courage he has shown in considering and granting me political asylum. And so I thank the government and the Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño, who have upheld the Ecuadorian constitution and its notion of universal rights in their consideration of my case.”
“And to the Ecuadorian people for supporting and defending their constitution. And I have a debt of gratitude to the staff of this embassy whose families live in London and who have shown me hospitality and kindness despite the threats that they have received.”
Assange also urged the American government and US President Barack Obama to “do the right thing”: “I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks.”
“The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters. The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.”
He mentioned U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, accused of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history to WikiLeaks. Assange said Manning was a hero who should be released by the United States. Manning faces life in prison if convicted.
“The Army Private who remains in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth Kansas, who was found by the UN 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 in the statement.
“And 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. Bradley Manning must be released. On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day in detention without trial. The legal maximum is 120 days.”
Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 but fought extradition to Sweden all the way to the Supreme Court, fearing it was a pretext for him to be sent to the US where the authorities were incensed by his release of thousands of confidential diplomatic cables.
Assange has been holed up inside Ecuador’s embassy in central Londonfor eight weeks since he lost a legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Ecuador’s socialist President Rafael Correa, a self-declared enemy of “corrupt” media and U.S. “imperialism,” granted the former computer hacker political asylum last week, deepening a diplomatic standoff with Britain and Sweden.