WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange has defied a British police order to turn himself in for extradition to Sweden and will stay inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange’s spokeswoman said on Friday.
The 40-year-old Australian, who walked into the embassy on June 19 seeking political asylum, was served notice on Thursday to surrender himself to a central London police station, but decided not to comply.
“Julian will remain in the embassy under the protection of the Ecuadorian government,” Susan Benn of the Julian Assange Defence Fund told reporters outside the embassy in London’s plush Knightsbridge district.
“Yesterday, Mr Assange was served with a letter from the -Metropolitan Police Service requesting that he surrender himself to Belgravia police station at 11:30 this morning,” she said. “Mr Assange has been advised that he should decline to comply with the police request.”
The former computer hacker faces questioning in Sweden over allegations that he sexually assaulted two former volunteers at his WikiLeaks anti-secrecy Web site in August 2010.
He was arrested in London in December 2010 on a European arrest warrant.
He denies the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated and that if he is extradited to Sweden he could be sent on to the US, where he fears he could be put on trial for espionage and possibly executed.
WikiLeaks enraged Washington by publishing a flood of secret information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than 250,000 confidential US diplomatic cables that embarrassed a slew of governments.
US soldier Bradley Manning is facing a trial over accusations that he handed documents to WikiLeaks.
After a marathon legal battle against extradition, Assange finally exhausted his options in the British courts earlier this month when the British Supreme Court rejected his application to reopen his appeal.
He was given until Thursday to make a final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, at which point extradition procedures in Britain could commence.
Although beyond the reach of the police as long as he stays inside the embassy on diplomatic territory, if Assange steps off its premises, he is liable to be arrested for breaching his bail conditions, which state that he must be at his bail address between 10pm and 8am.
Scotland Yard said on Thursday that Assange would be further liable to arrest if he ignored the surrender notice. Two of police officers are stationed outside the embassy.
Benn said on Friday that Assange was in “good spirits” and that his decision to ignore the surrender notice “should not be considered any sign of disrespect.”
“The issues faced by Mr Assange are serious,” she said outside the embassy, which is in a mansion block across the street from London’s famous Harrods department store.
“His life and liberty, and the life and liberty of his organization and those associated with it, are at stake,” she added.
“The US Department of Justice admitted yesterday that its investigation into WikiLeaks proceeds. It is only a matter of time before US authorities begin extradition proceedings against Julian and other leading members of Wiki-Leaks on various charges including conspiracy to commit espionage,” Benn said.
A dozen or so demonstrators stood outside holding placards reading “Free Assange.”