WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange used the balcony of Ecuador’s London embassy yesterday to berate the US for threatening freedom of expression and called on US President Barack Obama to end what he called a witch-hunt against WikiLeaks.
Speaking from the balcony of the embassy, where he is staying to avoid arrest by British police who want to extradite him to Sweden, Assange said the US risked shunting the world into an era of journalistic oppression.
“As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all of our societies,” Assange said, dressed in a blue shirt and a maroon tie.
“I ask President Obama to do the right thing: The United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks,” he said in a 10-minute speech that he ended with two thumbs up to the world’s media.
Ecuador has granted political asylum to the former computer hacker who incensed the US and its allies by using the WikiLeaks Web site to leak hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic and military cables in 2010.
WikiLeaks had said that Assange would make a statement outside the embassy, stirring speculation that he would be arrested by British police arrayed in force outside the red-brick legation in the opulent Knightsbridge district of London.
However, a workman inside the embassy could be seen yesterday morning prising the hinges off a door leading to a small balcony on the corner of the embassy, signaling that Assange would speak from that perch to keep himself safe from arrest.
Assange, an Australian, is wanted in Sweden for questioning regarding allegations of rape and sexual assault and Britain has said that he would not be granted safe passage out of his Ecuadoran embassy refuge, which enjoys diplomatic status.
Assange, 41, took sanctuary in the embassy in June after exhausting appeals in British courts against extradition to Sweden. He says he fears Sweden would eventually hand him over to the US where, in his view, he would face persecution and long-term imprisonment.
Earlier yesterday, a police helicopter circled overhead while about 40 British police officers in black stab vests were stationed outside the embassy, lining walls under the balcony where Assange was expected to speak.
The exterior door was earlier removed from the balcony above which the yellow, blue and red Ecuadoran flag was draped in what appeared to be preparations for Assange’s appearance.
The balcony was likely to be deemed part of the Ecuadoran embassy, thus insulating him from arrest by British police.