The US on Monday denied Julian Assange’s “wild assertions” that it has launched a witch-hunt for the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, who was holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid extradition.
The Australian-born hacktivist rallied supporters on Sunday from the balcony of the embassy, accusing the US of pursuing him after his website angered Washington by publishing a trove of sensitive diplomatic cables.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the US had nothing to do with efforts by Britain to extradite Assange, who is wanted for questioning by Sweden on allegations of rape and molestation.
“He is making all kinds of wild assertions about us when in fact his issue with the government of the United Kingdom has to do with whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden for something that has nothing to do with WikiLeaks, it has to do with charges of sexual misconduct,” Nuland told reporters.
“He is clearly trying to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden,” she told reporters.
“That case has nothing to do with us. It’s a matter between the UK, Sweden and now Ecuador has inserted itself,” she said.
Nuland, in an exchange with reporters, later clarified that Assange was not charged in Sweden, but was wanted for questioning. Two female WikiLeaks volunteers in Sweden have accused Assange of the sexual misconduct.
Assange says that the accusations are politically motivated and that he would eventually be extradited to the US. He says the sex was consensual.
“I ask President [Barack] Obama to do the right thing — the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks,” the 41-year-old Australian told some 200 supporters and hordes of journalists from the embassy balcony on Sunday.
Assange has spent two months inside the embassy, which occupies a small part of a red-brick mansion block in an upscale section of London. British authorities could arrest him if he steps outside.
Nuland, in line with previous US statements, declined comment on the scope of US prosecution over WikiLeaks.
A military court is trying Bradley Manning, a young soldier suspected of leaking the documents to the activist Web site.
Assange called for the US to release Manning, saying he was being treated harshly in detention.
The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Ernesto Mendez, in March said that Manning had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” conditions including prolonged detention. A previous State Department spokesman, Philip Crowley, resigned last year after criticizing Manning’s treatment.
WikiLeaks angered the US by releasing tens of thousands of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as often unflattering reports of US diplomats’ views on world leaders.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, has offered asylum to Assange, citing the possibility of US prosecution.
“We have always been open to dialogue with the governments of Britain and Sweden,” Correa said in an interview with ECTV public television broadcast late on Monday.
He added, however, that Britain and Sweden were maintaining an “intransigent” position.