Assange to stay put even if cases dropped

  • Reuters, London
  • |
  • Updated: Jun 19, 2013 23:57 IST

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he will not leave the sanctuary of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London even if Sweden stops pursuing sexual assault claims against him because he fears arrest on the order of the United States.

In an interview with Reuters and others to mark the  one-year anniversary of taking refuge in the cramped diplomatic building, Assange said he remained hopeful he might be able to leave but offered little evidence to suggest he would be finding new living quarters anytime soon.

"I wouldn't say I wouldn't leave," he said. "(But) my lawyers have advised me I shouldn't leave the embassy because of the risk of arrest in relation to the risk of arrest and extradition to the United States."

When asked whether he would remain inside even if Sweden dropped the investigation against him, Assange said: "That's correct."

Assange chose his words carefully in the interview, which was conducted last Friday under embargo. In a wide-ranging discussion behind drawn white net curtains, Assange hailed Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency who made revelations about US surveillance programs, as a hero. He also railed against the United States, Britain and his native Australia and talked about his case with semi-legal expertise.

Assange, 41, fled to the Ecuadorean Embassy last June to avoid extradition to Sweden, which wants to question him about allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he denies.

He says he does not want to answer the allegations in  person because he believes Sweden would hand him over to the US authorities, who would try him for helping facilitate one of the largest information leaks in US history.

WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of confidential US documents on the Internet in 2010, embarrassing the United States and, according to some critics, putting its national security and people's lives at risk.

The court-martial of Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of providing reams of classified documents to WikiLeaks, is under way in Maryland.

Ecuador has granted Assange political asylum and allowed  him to shelter in its embassy, but Britain has made it clear he will be arrested if he tries to leave the embassy, which is heavily guarded by police.

As Assange spoke, at least four policemen ringed the embassy.


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