Julian Assange quashes departure talk
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.
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)