Sat, Jun 23, 2012 - Page 7 News List

WikiLeaks frontman speaks on legal case

AFP, LONDON

WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange lashed out at Australia and Sweden yesterday as he spoke for the first time since turning up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London requesting political asylum.

The former computer hacker told Australia’s ABC radio of his fears he would end up in the hands of the US, which he says want to try him for divulging US secrets.

However, he said there was as yet no US indictment against him.

“Of course not, at the moment, the matter is before the grand jury,” he told ABC. “Until it comes out of the grand jury, there will not be such evidence afforded.”

Assange sought asylum on Tuesday in a dramatic bid to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

He made the bid, he said, because he was not prepared to go to Sweden under the terms in which he believed he would be held there.

“The Swedes announced publicly that they would detain me in prison, without charge, while they continued their so-called investigation,” he said. “We had heard that the Ecuadorians were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the struggles of the organization with the US.”

WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing classified US information about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables.

Assange said he chose the Ecuadorian embassy ahead of his home country’s because he felt Canberra had done nothing to protect him, a charge the government has denied.

“There are serious issues here, and they are being hidden by the slimy rhetoric coming out of the US ambassador to Australia, via [Australian Prime Minister Julia] Gillard ... and that needs to stop,” Assange said.

Assange will remain inside the embassy while Ecuador considers his request which could take “hours or days,” a WikiLeaks spokesman said on Thursday.

Earlier, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said his government would take its time in deciding whether to grant asylum to the Australian anti-secrecy campaigner.

British police said on Wednesday that because he was no longer staying at his designated bail address, Assange had breached his bail conditions and was now subject to arrest if he left the embassy.

Britain’s Foreign Office, however, said that because Assange was still on diplomatic territory, he was “beyond the reach of the police.”

Three policeman stood guard on Thursday outside Ecuador’s embassy, an apartment in a mansion block in central London.

Correa, who was interviewed by Assange for his TV show, which airs on Moscow-backed broadcaster Russia Today, indicated that the decisionmaking process could take some time.

“He [Assange] presented his reasons. We are going to verify them ... We will take the time necessary,” Correa said, adding that it would be done “with absolute seriousness and absolute responsibility.”

The leftist leader, often at odds with Washington, said his government was studying Assange’s claim he could be extradited from Sweden to the US on political grounds and possibly sentenced to death.

“Ecuador is a country which defends the right to life. We have to see whether there is a threat to Julian Assange’s life,” Correa said, speaking on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development on Wednesday.

The British Supreme Court last week threw out Assange’s application to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden.

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