18:29 GMT +321 November 2017
Live
    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017

    June 19 Marks Five Years of 'Illegal' Incarceration for Assange, But Also Hope

    © REUTERS/ Neil Hall
    Military & Intelligence
    Get short URL
    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange case (70)
    3623172

    Ever since June 19 2012, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, London. Journalists and supporters flocked to the building to mark the fifth anniversary of the day he "moved in" – and hear Assange make a special announcement.

    Assange — and his supporters around the world — undoubtedly breathed a simultaneous sigh of collective relief in May when, after a marathon seven year legal stalemate, Swedish prosecutors dumped their investigation into allegations of sexual assault into the 45-year old Australian computer programmer.

    After all, the development would surely mean that Assange's ordeal — trapped day in, day out in a small room in an office that takes up a mere 2,153 square feet on a single floor of a residential house, with no access to outdoor space and no direct sunlight — was finally at an end.

    However, it quickly became apparent Assange's problems were far from over.

    London's Metropolitan Police — which had stood watch outside the Embassy's door 24 hours a day, seven days a week ever since he entered it, at an estimated cost to UK taxpayers of US$16.8 million (£13 million) between 2012 and 2015 alone — were quick to issue a statement of their own.

    Chiefs said the force remained "obliged" to execute an arrest warrant issued in 2012 by Westminster Magistrate's Court after Assange failed to surrender to authorities. In other words, Assange will still be arrested if he leaves the embassy, as he remains wanted in the UK — albeit for a much less serious offense.

    A supporter holds up a poster of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, Britain February 5, 2016.
    © REUTERS/ Toby Melville
    A supporter holds up a poster of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, Britain February 5, 2016.
    So dozens of Assange's advocates descended on the embassy June 19, to well-wish and hear the man himself make a "special announcement" on his ongoing imprisonment from the embassy balcony, a frequent host to Assange's "press conferences."

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, those gathered were strongly supportive of WikiLeaks' controversial frontman.

    Sputnik journalists present did not encounter a bad word said about Assange, with one fan referring to him as a "bringer of truth, who tells the truth the government won't" — another suggested he "spreads hope."

    A supporter of WikiLeaks founder julian Assange holds a copy of The WikiLeaks Files outside the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, Britain February 5, 2016
    © REUTERS/ Toby Melville
    A supporter of WikiLeaks founder julian Assange holds a copy of The WikiLeaks Files outside the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, Britain February 5, 2016

    Likewise, the crowd was unanimous — Assange's prolonged period of effective incarceration in the claustrophobic confines of the embassy directly resulted from stubbornness on the part of the UK government.

    "It's the government's choice to keep him here. All they have to do is call off the dogs, and it would save taxpayers loads of money. It's not Assange causing this problem, it's the government refusing to allow him freedom of movement," an attendee told Sputnik.

    In addition to members of the public, two of Assange's most prominent public supporters — renowned LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and investigative journalist John Pilger — were also in attendance.

    "He did not choose to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. He was granted asylum by the Ecuadorian government. It is the responsibility of the British government to honor its obligations under the refugee convention, and allow Julian Assange safe passage. Currently, the British government is refusing to do that. They consistently refuse to offer guarantees he won't be extradited to the US, where he is likely to face very serious charges that could land him in prison for decades. They have made the situation worse via their intransigence," Mr. Tatchell told Sputnik.

    Mr. Pilger likewise slammed the government for refusing to ensure Assange's freedom.

    "The US has made it clear he will be extradited from the UK and they will put him behind bars in the kind of hellhole Chelsea Manning had to endure. Edward Snowden said Assange were on a manhunt target list. Those are very good reasons for him not to come out. He's been charged with nothing, the farcical Swedish case is gone, he's been vindicated. This is illegal, this is against international law, and this has been imposed on him. He should be given free passage out of the country immediately," Mr. Pilger told Sputnik.

    Given the surging support on display, it's disappointment surely spread like wildfire throughout the gathered when Assange's legal team made clear he would not be speaking after all that lunchtime — although for reasons the assembled would surely welcome.

    The announcement had not been canceled outright, merely postponed — due an "imminent meeting" hastily arranged with UK officials.

    Surrounded by British police WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, centre, makes a statement to the media and supporters from a window of Ecuadorian Embassy in central London.
    © AP Photo/ Sang Tan
    Surrounded by British police WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, centre, makes a statement to the media and supporters from a window of Ecuadorian Embassy in central London.

    Melinda Taylor, head of Assange's legal team, said they received confirmation there will be a meeting with the British authorities, and neither they nor Assange wished to prejudice that meeting.

    "There is no legal reason to keep Julian here. We'd say the UK arrest warrant has no basis for enforcement — he wasn't violating bail, he sought asylum here, which is a lawful right. His whereabouts have been known, he hasn't fled the jurisdiction, this isn't a bail violation. In any event, he's effectively served far more than the maximum sentence that would apply to a bail violation, which is 12 months. In all, Assange has suffered through seven years of arbitrary detention," Ms. Taylor told Sputnik.

    Australian criminal lawyer Melinda Taylor speaks during a press conference on the 10th anniversary of the online leaking platform WikiLeaks on October 4, 2016 in Berlin.
    © AFP 2017/ Steffi Loos
    Australian criminal lawyer Melinda Taylor speaks during a press conference on the 10th anniversary of the online leaking platform WikiLeaks on October 4, 2016 in Berlin.

    The team are said to be optimistic a "satisfactory" outcome can be found which respects the British legal process and restores Assange's freedom and dignity.

    Topic:
    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange case (70)

    Related:

    Embassy Cat: Assange's Mysterious Feline Companion
    Assange Lawyer Criticizes US Media Restrictive Bill Attempt
    Ecuador's President Calls Julian Assange 'Hacker'
    Assange Strikes Back at Ecuador's President After Interference Remark
    Tags:
    arbitrary detention, leaks, whistleblower, whistleblowing, leaked documents, WikiLeaks, London, United States, United Kingdom, Ecuador
    Community standardsDiscussion
    Comment via FacebookComment via Sputnik
    • Сomment