Sydney. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Friday said he was holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London to draw attention to an alleged US extradition plot — and because Australia had abandoned him.
Australian Assange, 40, sought asylum at the Ecuadorian mission on Tuesday in a dramatic bid to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.
“We hope that what I am doing now will simply draw attention to the underlying issues,” he told ABC radio in an exclusive interview.
Assange expressed fears that the ultimate aim is for him to be handed over to US authorities, which he claims want to try him for divulging American secrets.
Australia has denied any knowledge of US extradition plans but in his first comments since entering the embassy, Assange accused officials of “slimy rhetoric.”
“At the moment the matter is before the Grand Jury. Until it comes out of the Grand Jury there will be no such evidence afforded,” he said, insisting that criminal proceedings that could lead to his extradition were afoot.
“The [US] Department of Justice is not able to formally confirm or deny the existence of the Grand Jury. It is a policy with all grand juries. There (are) witnesses who have come out on public record about how they’ve been dragged into the Grand Jury. We have received subpoenas. This is a hot, ongoing, active investigation,” Assange added.
WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables that embarrassed a series of governments.
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 is not a single matter of concern under which the Australian government . . . would ask other governments to be reasonable or just in this case,” he said. “This has been an effective declaration of abandonment.”
Canberra has said he has been given full consular access, but Assange disputed this.
“These are empty words. I haven’t met with anyone from the Australian High Commission since December 2010. What are they talking about?” he said.
Assange has denied the sexual assault claims and added he was not prepared to go to Sweden under the terms 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 United States, and the ability to exercise that option was at an effective end,” Assange said. “Life in Ecuador, I mean they are a friendly, generous people, is much better than a life behind bars.”
Ecuador President Rafael Correa, who has often been at odds with Washington, said his government was studying Assange’s claim that he could end up in the United States on political grounds and possibly be 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,” he said on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development Thursday.
Scotland Yard says Assange has breached his bail conditions and is now subject to arrest if he steps out of the embassy.