LONDON, Jun 16 – It is an odd sight: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is wearing a jacket and tie, but no shoes. Then again, if you have not stepped outside Ecuador’s London embassy for a year, shoes are largely pointless.,
In an interview with AFP to mark this strange anniversary, the man behind the whistleblowing website that unleashed the wrath of Washington insisted diplomats have the potential to end the deadlock that has left him trapped.
Like something out of a spy novel, Assange, a 41-year-old former computer hacker from Australia, walked into the embassy on June 19, 2012 and claimed asylum in a sensational bid to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes.
Ecuador granted his request, accepting his fears that if sent to Sweden he might be passed on to the United States and prosecuted for publishing thousands of classified war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and a cache of diplomatic cables.
But Britain has refused to grant him safe passage to Ecuador.
For a year, police have maintained a 24-hour guard at the doors of the embassy – a modest apartment around the corner from the Harrods department store – and are poised to arrest him if he tries to leave.
The last year, Assange says, has been like living on a space station. He has used a sun lamp to make up for the lack of natural light, and exercises on a treadmill.
He has also been getting on with the business of being a thorn in Washington’s side.
“You ask how I deal with the difficulties of being confined. Well actually, my mind is not confined,” he said, leaning back in a chair in the embassy’s tastefully decorated front room.
“The physical circumstances are difficult. However, I’m working every day.”
He spoke as shockwaves reverberated around the world over the biggest US leak since WikiLeaks published the war logs and diplomatic cables in 2010: the exposure of spy agencies’ massive electronic surveillance programmes.
Edward Snowden, an ex-CIA employee who says from exile in Hong Kong that his conscience drove him to reveal the scale of the government’s spying on the public, faces a criminal probe – and Assange fears he will be treated as harshly as WikiLeaks’ leaker Bradley Manning.