Julian Assange may have chosen a life on the lam but it is certainly not one of comfort. Inside Ecuador’s cramped embassy today, the limits of his liberty were all too apparent.
There was no sign of the Australian fugitive, whose single room is at the back of the embassy.
But behind the heavy-bolted front door, the brief glimpse inside gave us an indication of the sort of the place Mr Assange calls home. The embassy is surprisingly small. Housed on the ground floor of a seven-storey redbrick mansion block in one of London’s most salubrious districts, it has no more than 12 rooms and most of them are reserved for officials who have had a busy time in what is usually considered an agreeable posting.
Walking past the armed British police outside, we stepped into a foyer where harried-looking officials rushed back and forth as two female receptionists patiently answered the ceaseless ringing phones.
Assange will have become all-too-familiar with a portrait of his new sponsor, the beaming Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa. A yellow, blue and red patriotic sash is hung across the centre of the main room. The artwork he will have plenty of time to appreciate includes a series of vibrant paintings of tropical birds.
When Mr Assange first arrived two months ago he took officials by surprise. Unlike some of the larger diplomatic missions, which have apartments attached to them or a nearby residency, the Ecuadorians had no sleeping or washing facilities.
Officials initially placed an air mattress on the floor but it has since been replaced with a proper bed. A shower has been installed for Mr Assange’s use.
Friends who have visited Mr Assange say he has access to the internet. Meals are delivered to him from nearby restaurants or are made in the embassy’s small kitchenette.
Mr Assange’s capacity for exercise is limited. There is no garden and the diplomatic immunity he shelters behind runs out the moment he leaves the embassy’s front door and enters the building’s communal lobby.
Much to the annoyance of embassy officials, in the last 48 hours the police have significantly increased their presence around the building. Officers are posted inside the mansion block lobby and on the side street that runs down the side of the building.
However for all its shortcomings, Mr Assange has clearly decided that a cramped Knightsbridge embassy is better than a Swedish prison where he would await questioning if extradited. And if Ecuador ends up winning this diplomatic tussle, he might just got to see those tropical birds on their home soil.