Update (2:43 PM EST): Assange elaborates on plans; Predicts changes to UK law will precipitate departure from embassy
Subsequent to a morning press conference in London (see below), Wikileak's founder Julian Assange expanded on his plans for leaving the Ecuadorian Embassy in a discussion with Australia-based Fairfax Media saying that “a range of important legal developments in the United Kingdom” are fueling his thinking, including recent discussions in Parliament about its continued adherence to the European Arrest Warrant system, under which Assange could be extradicted to Sweden.
“It has been our legal advice from the very beginning that under international law and European law everyone has a right to asylum and that right must be respected legally,” Assange told Fairfax.
However, according to Fairfax, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
The UK government, however, has poured cold water on Mr Assange’s hopes legal changes will allow him to leave the embassy soon.
Under the new laws a judge may bar an extradition request if there has not been a decision to charge or try the subject of the request.
But a Home Office spokeswoman told Fairfax the changes had come too late for Assange.
“He has exhausted all his avenues of appeal under the Extradition Act,” the spokeswoman said. “The changes were not retrospective, so they don’t apply.”
Mr Assange's legal team hoped that, even if they did not have a legal basis for a challenge, the change in the law may signal a change in the government's attitude. The government has not yet given any indication of softening its position.
At a Monday morning press conference inside the Ecuador Embassy building in London, WikiLeaks' founder and publisher Julian Assange announced that he "will be leaving the embassy soon" after more than two years living under political asylum protection inside its walls.
Flanked by Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, Assange said that reports were true that he would end his stay but did not specify the exact circumstances under which he would leave. Various outlets in the UK have reported that Assange has developed serious "heart and lung problems" which are fueling his plans to leave the embassy, but Assange went out of his way to indicate such reporting was mistaken.
He did, however, say the extended stay has impacted his health. "Being detained in various ways in this country without charge for four years and in this embassy for two years which has no outside area, therefore no sunlight," he said to reporters, "it is an environment in which any healthy person would find themselves soon enough with certain difficulties."
Assange sought refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was ordered to return to Sweden to face questioning related to allegations of sexual misconduct. He has repeatedly said he would speak with Swedish prosecutors, but that he fears once in Sweden he could be extradited to the U.S. under a still secret indictment related to his work at WikiLeaks, which exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq and released a trove of U.S. State Department diplomatic cables that proved embarrassing to the global super power.
Assange said he has made every attempt to satisfy prosecutors and that the facts of the case in Sweden are often mis-reported.
He stated, "Firstly, I have not been charged with an offense here in the UK or in Sweden at any time. Secondly, the basis under which my asylum was granted here is the ongoing US investigation into me and WikiLeaks. It is often falsely reported that women in Sweden have accused me of the serious crime of rape. That is false. This is the situation which is being seized upon, at the time of the conflict between me and the US, the Swedish government resurrected a matter that had been previously dropped."
Patiño, speaking on behalf of the Ecuadorian government, said, "The situation must come to an end. Two years have been definitely too long. It is time to free Julian Assange, it is time for his human rights to be respected."
Video footage of the press conference via RT:
In an op-ed in the Guardian published Sunday, Patiño elaborated on why his government came to the assistance of Assange in the first place. Describing a close examination of his case, the foreign minister explained:
The millions of documents published by WikiLeaks about the political, economic and military maneuvers of powerful interests also magnified delicate matters of sovereignty and abuse of power.
All states have secrets. And all states have the right to defend themselves. But this must not whitewash the grave violations of human rights, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, of which we have learned.
In many cases, states with the most sophisticated methods for surveillance commit the most heinous human rights violations. Publication of information about human rights abuses is a right in accordance with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998, the exercise of which implies a right of protection to those who reveal such violations. Honest journalism and the courageous whistleblowers who denounce human rights violations or attempts against state sovereignty deserve to be protected.
Patiño also reiterated his country's willingness to mediate a solution between Assange, the UK, and Swedish governments. He also asked for safe passage so that Assange could be taken from the embassy and transported to Ecuadorian soil.
Assange expressed disappointment in European countries, none of whom have come to offer him assistance or defend his human rights.
"Somehow the situation has developed here for me," Assange said, "where basic rights that were previously universally accepted in Europe are no longer respected."
Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, told reporters at the news conference that Assange would leave the UK immediately if given permission, but that he would not simply be turning himself in to authorities.
"The plan, as always," said Hrafnsson, "is to leave as soon as the UK Government decides to honor its obligations in relation to international agreements."