Assange saga clouds freedom of speech agenda
Julian Assange's supporters outside the London embassy where he is confined say he is being persecuted for speaking truth to power, but free speech campaigners further afield say the WikiLeaks founder has lost his way and damaged the cause.
The Australian has been seeking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy for eight weeks to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape.
A dozen activists for causes ranging from Internet freedom to anti-capitalism were keeping vigil outside the building on Friday, fuelled by pizzas ordered online for them by an anonymous WikiLeaks supporter in Canada.
"In my humble opinion they like to shut people up and I wouldn't be surprised if he got killed. Assange is staying away from the embassy windows and I don't blame him," said a member of the anti-finance Occupy movement who gave her name as Tammy.
"Conspiracies are often made to look like crazy theories but quite often it's all true, hidden in plain sight," she said.
Assange says Sweden would be only a stop on the way to the United States, where he says he believes authorities want to punish him for publishing thousands of US diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks in 2010 in a major embarrassment to Washington.
A US government source said allegations by some Assange supporters that there was a secret US indictment pending against him were wrong. The source said on Thursday that Washington had not issued any extradition request for Assange.
Ecuador granted Assange asylum on Thursday but Britain has refused to grant him safe passage to Quito because he has jumped bail and also because the government is under a legal obligation to comply with court rulings and send him to Stockholm.
Among freedom of speech groups who should be natural allies of WikiLeaks, Assange's choice of Ecuador has caused dismay.
"He's ironically going to a country that locks up journalists frequently. It's a rather grim irony," Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship, a group that in 2008 bestowed its new media prize on WikiLeaks, told reporters.
Campaign group the Committee to Protect Journalists ran a piece entitled "Ecuador not fit to champion free expression", citing harassment of newspapers and closures of radio stations.