Assange living like “undergrad” at Ecuador Embassy
Julian Assange is sleeping in a converted study at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, UK, while he waits for political asylum, according to an activist who recently visited him.
“He’s living now the way I lived as an undergrad in college,” said Robert Naimen, director of Just Foreign Policy, an American organization lobbying to change US foreign policy, and regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
Naiman spoke on the embassy steps after delivering a petition signed by 4,000 Americans, including writer Michael Moore and academic Noam Chomsky, asking Ecuador to grant the founder of Wikileaks amnesty.
Despite Assange’s austere conditions, Naimen found him in high spirits.
“My sense is that Julian is used to simple living. He’s travelled all over the world,” he said, adding that Assange’s sleeping area is now doubling as a bedroom and workspace for embassy staff.
Assange has been staying at the embassy since July 19 after losing his fight against extradition to Sweden where he faces allegations of sexual assault against two women. He fears if he goes to Sweden the government there will extradite him to the United States. There he may face prosecution under the Espionage Act for publishing classified government documents.
Information published on Wikileaks has repeatedly brought scandal to the American government. In 2007 the website posted a technical manual for guards at Guantanamo Bay which forbade visits to certain prisoners by the International Red Cross, something the US military had previously denied. In 2010 Wikileaks posted a video showing US helicopter aircrew gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians.
Assange hasn’t left the embassy since Tuesday, fearing arrest and extradition by British authorities if he steps off Ecuadorian soil. Police stood guard outside the embassy doors on Monday, joining a vigil that included journalists and supporters who have hung signs of support on the building’s gates.
Last week the Ecuadorian government released a statement saying it would rule on Assange’s asylum bid, but no decision has been made public. Over the weekend Ana Alban, the Ecuadorian ambassador to Britain, left for Quito to discuss the case with her country’s president, Rafael Correa, who knows Assange personally and has praised his controversial website.
In 2011 Correa’s government expelled the American ambassador after Wikileaks published a US diplomatic cable suggesting the president appointed a chief of the national police with a known history of corruption.
Naiman said Assange feels confident Ecuador will accept his bid for asylum.
“I don’t think anyone is anticipating that they’re going to deny his request,” he said. “But we don’t know when they will approve it, and we don’t know what happens afterwards, because even if they approve his request, the next day he’s still here, and doesn’t magically escape.”
Assange is liable to be arrested as soon as he walks out of the embassy, whether Ecuador has granted him asylum or not. Naiman says Britain, Sweden, and the United States will have to agree to a compromise so Assange can answer the sexual assault allegations without fear of imprisonment for releasing classified information about America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The hope is we can build political pressure with the assistance of the Ecuadorian government on the British authorities, so that they would need to make a political deal with the government of Ecuador that would protect Julian from political prosecution in the US,” says Naiman. “This needs to be addressed in a way that doesn’t expose Julian to prosecution under the (US) Espionage Act.”
Assange will continue to sleep in the study of the Equadorian embassy while presidents, prime ministers, and diplomats decide his fate. The man who once humiliated governments now rests at their mercy.