From embassy refuge, Assange calls for end to WikiLeaks 'witch hunt'

Speaks from Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum

By Marc Ferranti and Mikael Ricknäs, IDG News Service |  Government

Speaking from a balcony at the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has sought asylum, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Sunday called on governments including the U.S. to stop persecution of political whistle blowers and gave no indication that the stalemate over his extradition from the U.K. to Sweden, where he faces allegations on sexual offenses, would end anytime soon.

Dressed in a blue button-down shirt and a red tie, Assange looked out over a throng of supporters and police in front of the embassy to deliver about 10 minutes of remarks, first addressed to those on scene and then to political figures including U.S. President Obama.

"I am here today because I cannot be there with you today, but thank you for your resolve, for your generosity of spirit," Assange said.

"On Wednesday night after a threat was made on this embassy and police descended on this embassy, you came out to watch over it."

Assange said that he could hear police swarming up through the fire escapes of the embassy, and said "If the U.K. did not throw away the terms of the Vienna convention it was because the world was watching and the world was watching because you were watching."

"As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all of our societies," Assange said.

Assange went on to call for the release of Bradley Manning, the U.S. intelligence analyst accused of leaking masses of confidential information to WikiLeaks, who is currently in military prison.

"I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks," he said. WikiLeaks workers and supporters and members of the media including journalists at the New York Times -- which worked with WikiLeaks to publish U.S. documents -- should not be prosecuted, Assange said. He called on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to halt any investigation related to Wikileaks they may be carrying out.

To date however, no journalist or member of WikiLeaks has been indicted in the U.S. in a WikiLeaks-related case, although there have been media reports, unconfirmed by government officials, that a grand jury was convened to look into a WikiLeaks-related case. U.S. grand juries are convened to establish whether there is enough evidence in a case so that prosecution may go forward. Grand jury evidence is not made public.

Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy since June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual offences.

However, Assange and his advisors have said that once in Sweden, he could then be extradited to the U.S., where he has said he believed authorities want to put him on trial for publishing diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks in 2010.

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