Julian Assange quashes departure talk

READY TO LEAVE?: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
READY TO LEAVE?: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not about to leave the Ecuadorean embassy in London despite media reports he was considering surrendering to British police due to health concerns.

The Australian looked in good health when he held a press  conference in the embassy on Monday morning with Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino.

Assange told journalists ‘‘I can confirm I will be leaving the  embassy soon,’’ but did not elaborate.

INSIDE: Julian Assange has been living inside the Ecuadorean Embassy for two years.
INSIDE: Julian Assange has been living inside the Ecuadorean Embassy for two years.

Afterwards WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson made clear the  rumours of Assange’s imminent departure weren’t true.

‘‘The world is not coming to an end,’’ he told reporters inside  the embassy.

‘‘The plan (as always) is to leave as soon as the UK government  decides to honour its obligations in relation to international  agreements.’’

Hrafnsson said he didn’t know where the rumours reported in  the British media had come from.

Assange walked into the Ecuadorean embassy on June 19, 2012,  and was granted political asylum two months later on August 16.

A large media pack gathered outside the embassy following  reports Assange could leave the diplomatic mission where he’s  avoiding extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault.

The 43-year-old Australian himself had a dig at the Murdoch  press when asked about the rumours he was set to leave due to heart  and lung conditions as well as high blood pressure.

‘‘I am leaving the embassy soon,’’ he told reporters.

‘‘But perhaps not for the reasons the Murdoch press and Sky News  are saying at the moment.’’

The WikiLeaks founder hopes recent changes to British  extradition laws might encourage the UK government to reconsider  its view that it is obligated to arrest the Australian if he leaves  the embassy and send him to Sweden.

Earlier this year the law was changed to bar extradition if  there’s no prosecution decision in the requesting territory.

Assange hasn’t been charged in Sweden but the changes to the  British extradition laws aren’t retrospective so don’t apply in his  case.

‘‘(Nevertheless) the British parliament and the legal community  has seen the abuses of my rights and the rights of many other  Britons who have been extradited without charge,’’ the former  computer hacker said.

‘‘That has led to a package of law reforms which came into force  last month.

‘‘So I am thankful that the United Kingdom is standing up for the  values of due process.’’

Patino on Monday said he’d try and set up a meeting with the  UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in the coming weeks to discuss the issue.

‘‘We believe that the recent reforms do create a better climate  for us to reach an agreement,’’ the Ecuadorean minister said.

‘‘The situation must come to an end. It is time to free Julian  Assange. It is time for his human rights to finally be respected.’’

A Swedish court in mid-July upheld an arrest warrant against  Assange for alleged sexual assault.

Assange also believes, however, that the United States has  likely already issued a sealed extradition order meaning if he left  the embassy he could be arrested by British police and taken to the  US to face charges over WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents.

Assange told Patino 12 months ago that he was strong enough  to remain in the embassy for five years rather than face legal  proceedings in the US.

It’s estimated the cost of British police maintaining a 24-hour  watch outside the embassy has passed $US7 million (NZ$8.2m)

The Age