Julian Assange: UK urged to give 'safe passage' to WikiLeaks founder after rape investigation dropped

"The proper war is just commencing", WikiLeaks founder tells supporters from the balcony of Ecuadorian embassy

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The Independent Online

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum abroad after a rape investigation by Swedish authorities was dropped, according to the foreign minister who has supported him during his time at the Ecuadorian embassy. 

“The European arrest warrant no longer holds. The UK must now grant safe passage to Mr Julian Assange," Ecuador’s foreign minister Guillaume Long wrote on Twitter.

Mr Assange made a rare appearance on the balcony of the embassy in London where he has been holed up for almost five years to condemn what he called the "terrible injustice" of the years he has spent in prison and self-imposed exile under threat of extradition first to Sweden and then to the US, where he is wanted for questioning over thousands of leaked intelligence documents.

He said: "Today is an important victory, but it by no means erases seven years of detention without charge in prison, under house arrest and almost five years in this embassy without sunlight.

“Seven years without charge while my children grew up without me.

“This is not something that I can forgive. It is not something that I can forget."

Mr Assange, who will remain at the embassy after Scotland Yard confirmed there is still a warrant for his arrest, continued: “The inevitable enquiry into what has occurred in this moment of terrible injustice is something that I hope will be more than just about me and this situation because the reality is detention and extradition without charge has become a feature of the European Union, a feature that has been exploited … in my case for political reasons ... but in other cases has subjected many people to terrible injustice."

Watched by a crowd of supporters and journalists, the Australian journalist and activist added: "In Sweden, indefinite detention is a policy.

"There is no time limit that someone can be detained without charge. That is not how we expect a civilised state to behave.

"Similarly, extradition without charge is not something that we expect from the rule of law in the United Kingdom.”

Mr Assange thanked the Ecuadorian Government for granting him political asylum despite “intense pressure”, as well as his team of lawyers and others who have stood by him.

“We have today won an important victory, but the road is far from over. The proper war is just commencing.”

He vowed that WikiLeaks will continue distributing material concerning the activities of the CIA in the United States, and will “accelerate” its publications.

“The claim that the UK has the right to arrest me for seeking asylum in a case where there have been no charges is simply untenable.

“My legal staff have contacted the UK authorities and we hope to engage in a dialogue about what is the best way forward.”

Mr Assange said the UK had refused to confirm or deny whether there is a warrant from the US for his extradition, insisting he is happy to talk to the US Justice Department.

He went back into the building without answering questions.

The UN had called on Swedish and British authorities to free Mr Assange from "arbitrary detention" in a report leaked last year, with the UK failing to overturn its findings on appeal.

Sweden's chief prosecutor Marianne Ny announced earlier today the allegation against Mr Assange would not be pursued.

She said: “In order to proceed with the case, Julian Assange would have to be formally notified of the criminal suspicions against him. We cannot expect to receive assistance from Ecuador regarding this. Therefore the investigation is discontinued."

Ms Ng said the probe could be reopened if Mr Assange returns to Sweden before statute of limitations ends in August 2020, although the move appears highly unlikley.

The WikiLeaks founder sought asylum at the embassy in 2012 after losing court battles to avoid extradition to Sweden over the claims, which he denies. He said he feared the Swedish investigation would result in him being extradited to the US over leaked military documents.

Separate allegations of sexual assault, made by a second Swedish woman, were dropped by authorities in Sweden in 2015 after the statute of limitations expired.

In November, Mr Assange was questioned by an Ecuadorian prosecutor in the presence of Swedish officials following a bilateral agreement. The Ecuadorian Government had sent a letter to Sweden accusing its prosecutor of "serious failure" over the investigation and a lack of initiative to complete inquiries.

The Metropolitan Police released a statement confirming there is still a warrant out for his arrest for failing to appear in court in June 2012.

It said: "The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy."

When asked about the possibility of legal action against Mr Assange, Prime Minister Theresa May said that it was a matter for the police.

As the Swedish investigation continued in December 2010, Mr Assange was put in isolation in Wandsworth Prison for ten days before being placed under house arrest for 550 days under powers granted through an international arrest warrant.

Scotland Yard stood down its 24/7 police presence outside the Ecuadorian embassy in 2015 following public criticism over the costs, but maintained officers would make "every effort" to arrest Mr Assange if he left.

The Met said its response "reflected the serious nature" of the original accusations.

Chelsea Manning, who passed sensational classified US military intelligence on Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks, was freed from prison on Wednesday following after her 35 year sentence was commuted by Barack Obama in one of his final acts as President.

 

 

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