WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange made his first public appearance for two months today as he taunted the British government by giving a speech from a balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The 41-year-old gave a relaxed seven-minute statement demanding an end to America’s war on whistleblowers’ – while also rubbing ministers’ noses in their continued failure to arrest him.
Assange, who security sources said would be arrested if he put one ‘toe’ outside the Ecuadorian embassy, appears to be relishing his position as political asylum seeker, having been holed up for two months as he seeks to avoid extradition from Britain.
The Australian began his balcony address by declaring: ‘I am here today because I cannot be there with you today’ – referring to his asylum bid which has become costly and embarrassing for the British government.
Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador on Thursday as he seeks to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual misconduct allegations.
The WikiLeaks founder has been trapped in the embassy for almost two months without having been seen or heard from.
Hundreds of his supporters had gathered to listen to the Australian as well as vast amounts of global media. There was also about 100 police officers.
Assange made his speech from the safety of a small balcony at the Ecuadorian embassy knowing that if he stepped foot outside he would be arrested.
During the seven minute speech, he said: ‘As WikiLeaks stands under threat so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our democracies.
‘We must use this moment to articulate the choice before the government of the U.S. Will it revert to the values it was founded on or will it launch off the precipice dragging us all into a dark, repressive world in which journalists live under fear of prosecution.
‘I say it must turn back. I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The U.S. must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks. It must dissolve its FBI investigation and it must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters.
‘The. U.S. must pledge that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the powerful.
‘There must be no more foolish talk about prosecuting any news organsations. The U.S. administration’s war on whistleblowers must end.’
During his speech he also thanked Ecuador for granting him asylum.
He said: ‘I thank President Rafael Correa for the courage he has shown in considering and granting me political asylum.’
He also offered an apology to his family, saying: ‘To my family and my children who have been denied their father, forgive me. We will be reunited soon.’
It also emerged today that Assange has instructed his lawyers ‘to carry out a legal action’ to protect his rights.
His legal adviser Baltasar Garzon emerged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London before Assange spoke and said: ‘I have spoken to Julian Assange and I can tell you he is in fighting spirits and he is thankful to the people of Ecuador and especially to the president for granting asylum.