Assange’s confinement enters year two in Ecuador’s embassy
WikiLeaks founder vows to remain in sanctuary even if sex claims dropped
The Ecuadorian embassy where Julian Assange has been living following refusal of his appeal against extradition to Sweden on sex charges. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images
Drenched in summer sunshine, shoppers hurried to and fro on Sloane Street outside Harrods in London’s upmarket Knightsbridge. Little seemed out of place, bar the sight of three policemen standing near the door of a block of mansion flats, one of which, number three, is the embassy of Ecuador.
Julian Assange, who fears being extradited to the US to face charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic documents, was inside, as he has been for 365 days.
If he is escaping prison, Assange has not escaped confinement: life for the last year has been lived in a room five metres wide, with a single bed, bookshelves, table and chairs. In recent days he has told reporters that he will not leave his sanctuary even if the Swedes stop pursuing him over allegations that he raped one woman and sexually molested another. Despite Swedish denials, he insists that Stockholm – which successfully sought his extradition from the UK – will extradite him to the United States. Three years on, American anger towards Assange for his role in publicising the documents leaked by US soldier Bradley Manning – who is on trial in the US – remains undimmed. Entering the Hans Crescent embassy sanctuary a year ago, Assange believed he would be there for up to two years, a timetable he believes will hold true.
But it could drag on longer. “There have been other cases, similar deadlocks for political refugees in embassies that have gone on for dozens of years. However, we don’t intend to leave the situation to fate. Like most matters of international prestige, solutions are found which appear to be technical or enforced by a third party such as an international court. I expect that will happen in this matter also,” he says.
Assange complains about a lack of sunshine, speaks slowly and deliberately and tells reporters that he never uses e-mail, leaving that job to others. However, he insists that he has been busy, working 17-hour days, or trying to keep fit on a running machine – supplied by film director Ken Loach – or with the help of a personal trainer. His presence in in the embassy is a problem that neither the UK nor Ecuador wants, though months of talks have done nothing to find a way through. The Ecuadoreans believe that Assange should be free to leave the embassy and fly to South America, while the British insist he will be arrested if he steps outside the door.
However there are tensions, within the Ecuadorean administration, seemingly illustrated by the imminent departure of the country’s ambassador to London, Ana Alban. For the Ecuadoreans, her exit is nothing more than a routine diplomatic transfer, though others at home, more than a little unrealistically, blame her for not breaking the log-jam.
Three years ago, after WikiLeaks published US state department cables about Ecuador, the country’s deputy foreign minister said it would grant Assange sanctuary if he needed it. More senior figures soon backtracked, but Ecuador eventually granted him asylum two months after he took refuge in their embassy last year, and has not resiled from that since.
Inside Flat 3 yesterday, Assange began his second year of embassy life. Outside, traffic flowed, shoppers shopped, workers put up scaffolding. Life carried on, oblivious.