Julian Assange delivered a 10 minute speech yesterday from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum from British authorities looking to arrest him and extradite him to Sweden, where he faces sexual assault allegations.
According to Reuters, a balcony door had to be removed from the building so Assange could address the outside world without leaving the safety of the embassy. Numbering in the crowd, which can be heard off camera in the video below, included “dozens” of police officers, apparently on watch for an opportunity to detain him.
Assange’s speech recalled exhortations he’s made repeatedly throughout his last 18 months under one form or another of house confinement for Sweden and the US to drop what he calls politically-motivated efforts to extradite him. But if yesterday’s speech quivered with a renewed sense of urgency, it did happen to fall amid newly urgent circumstances, both for Assange and for the cause of free expression.
Contextualizing himself alongside Pussy Riot, who just received a 2-year jail sentence in Russia, and Bradley Manning, who is now spending his 820th day in jail without a trial, Assange said, “I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks.”
Assange has long held that Sweden’s pursuit of him is just a ruse, and that if he were to be delivered, extradition to the U.S. would soon follow, where he would be locked up indefinitely, like Manning.
Calling on the U.S. to champion free expression and to move away from prosecution like Russia’s sentencing of Pussy Riot, Assange said, “We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States. Will it return to and reaffirm the revolutionary values it was founded on? or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under fear of prosecution, and which citizens whisper in the dark?”
But if Assange’s speech came at a critical moment for free expression, it also came at a critical moment for Assange himself. He thanked Ecuador for their hospitality at the embassy, but reports state that Assange is confined to a converted office with a kitchenette and a makeshift shower installed. His space is no bigger than a few hundred square feet and he has no access to natural sunlight. He may not literally be jailed like Bradley Manning, but he’s not that far off. If the powers that be don’t drop their witch hunt against WikiLeaks, he’ll never get out of here.
“The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation,” Assange said. ‘The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters. The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists who are shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.”
Watch the video below. Ironically, the video was uploaded by Russia Today, the state-run Russian TV network which ran Assange’s show World Tomorrow. Many people criticized Assange for cozying up to the Russian State in his arrangement, but here he is denouncing Russia’s Pussy Riot conviction, and Russia Today is still filming and uploading the video to YouTube.