London: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday said he requested political asylum in Ecuador because his native Australia had made an “effective declaration of abandonment” by refusing to interfere in his planned extradition from Britain to Sweden.
He further admitted that he doesn’t know whether Ecuador will approve his unusual plea for political asylum, as he spent a third night inside the country’s embassy in London.
In an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp radio, Assange said: “We had heard that the Ecuadoreans were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the struggles of the organisation with the United States”.
However, Assange acknowledged there was no guarantee that his plea would be successful, and indicated he didn’t know when a decision on his case would be made.
While inside Ecuador’s London embassy, Assange is out of the reach of British authorities. However, police are poised to pounce the moment he steps foot outside the building and have confirmed he will be arrested for breaching the terms of his bail, which include an overnight curfew at a registered address.
A divisive figure with a knack for garnering attention, Assange has been fighting since 2010 to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women. He denies the claims, and says the case against him is politically motivated.
Ecuador’s embassy confirmed a decision on the case was expected soon from the Ecuadorean government, though it was not clear whether that would come only after the country’s President Rafael Correa returned from a climate summit in Brazil.
Assange said that even if Ecuador rejected this plea, he would have helped to draw attention to what he insists are attempts in the United States to draw up charges against him for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret US documents via the secret-spilling WikiLeaks website.
“We are in a position to draw attention to what is happening. The Department of Justice in the United States has been playing a little game, and that little game is that they refuse to confirm or deny the existence of a grand jury,” Assange said. “We are hoping what I am doing now will draw attention to the underlying issues.”
Assange, who was speaking to ABC by telephone from inside Ecuador’s London embassy, accused Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her government of “slimy rhetoric” over his case.
“I haven’t met with anyone from the Australian High Commission since December 2010,” he said, claiming that contact with diplomats had been limited to text messages.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Wednesday that the country could not become involved in Sweden’s extradition request, dismissing his claims that the case was directly linked to secret spilling.
“It’s not about WikiLeaks, it’s not about secrets, it’s not about political persecution,” Carr said.
Assange’s dramatic asylum bid took many of his supporters — and even his lawyers — by surprise.
Even if Assange is granted asylum, it is unclear how he could leave the embassy without being arrested by British police. Legal experts say he would forfeit the embassy’s protection the moment he steps out of the door.
Assange has exhausted legal appeals against extradition in Britain, but has until June 28 to apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.