May 22, 2013
Assange berates United States from Ecuador's London embassy
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy today to berate the United States for threatening freedom of expression and called on President Barack Obama to end what he called a witch-hunt against his whistle-blowing website.
Speaking from within the London mission to avoid arrest by British police who want to extradite him to Sweden for questioning over rape allegations, Assange said the United States was fighting a war against outlets like WikiLeaks.
Pitching himself alongside Russian punk band Pussy Riot and the New York Times newspaper, Assange said the United States risked shunting the world into an era of journalistic oppression. He did not address the rape allegations.
"As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all of our societies," Assange said, dressed in a maroon tie and blue shirt, flanked by the yellow, blue and red Ecuadorean flag.
"I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States much renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks," Assange said in a 10-minute speech which he ended with two thumbs up to the world's media.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, a self-declared enemy of "corrupt" media and US "imperialism", granted the former computer hacker political asylum last week, deepening a diplomatic standoff with Britain and Sweden.
Asylum in Ecuador marked the latest twist in a tumultuous journey for Assange since he incensed the United States and its allies by using his WikiLeaks website to leak hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic and military cables in 2010, disclosures that often embarrassed Washington.
Assange, 41, took sanctuary in the embassy in June, jumping bail after exhausting appeals in British courts against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted in Sweden for questioning regarding allegations of rape and sexual assault against two women.
He says he fears Sweden will eventually hand him over to the United States where, in his view, he would face persecution and long-term imprisonment. The United States says it is not involved in the matter.
To allow Assange to avoid arrest by stepping outside the embassy, a balcony door on an upper floor was removed, leading up to his first public appearance since seeking refuge in the diplomatic mission two months ago.
Speaking behind the condor of the Ecuadorean coat of arms on the white balcony railing of the embassy, Assange thanked Correa and Ecuador's diplomats, whom he praised for standing up against oppression.
"The sun came up on a different world and a courageous Latin American nation took a stand for justice," Assange, with cropped hair indicating a recent cut, said from the balcony.
Assange's attempt to escape extradition has touched off a diplomatic tussle between Britain and Ecuador, which accused London of threatening to raid its embassy and casting the dispute as an arrogant European power treating a Latin American nation like a colony.
Assange, who praised a dozen Latin American countries, including Argentina, which he said had rallied against Britain in the dispute, said the United States was at a turning point which could drag the rest of the world into a new oppressive era.