WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was questioned at Ecuador’s London embassy for four hours Monday. The interview was conducted by an Ecuadorian prosecutor posing questions on behalf of Swedish chief prosecutor Ingrid Isgren, who was also present, accompanied by a Swedish police investigator.
Mr. Assange has been holed up in the embassy for four years, seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden under an arrest warrant issued in November 2010. He has said that he fears being extradited to the United States, if he is arrested, on charges of espionage, though no such charges are known to have been made.
The questioning that began Monday is the culmination of lengthy negotiations over the details of any such interview, and it relates to an accusation that Assange committed rape in Sweden in 2010.
The Australian national first rose to prominence in the same year as the alleged rape, when his organization began releasing hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic and military documents.
“As a result of six years of delays and over four and a half years of illegal and arbitrary detention, Mr Assange is today faced with [a] Hobson's choice,” Melinda Taylor, a member of Assange’s legal team, told Reuters. “[E]ither he gives a statement in which his health, memory and psychological state are severely impeded, or, he is denied once more, an opportunity to be heard.”
A United Nations panel determined in February that the treatment of Assange amounted to “arbitrary detention,” saying it should be brought to an end and the Australian granted compensation. But a Swedish appeals court ruled in September that the case must proceed, following a request from Assange to have the arrest warrant overturned, basing its decision on what it deemed to be a question of strong public interest.
Some of Assange’s supporters believe a moment of change could nevertheless have arrived, with Donald Trump’s election to the White House.
The president-elect said during his campaign, “I love WikiLeaks,” reveling in the organization’s release of Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails. Assange’s US attorney, Barry Pollack, told The Guardian that President-elect Trump could preemptively pardon Assange, once he reaches the White House, if he so chose.
Yet such a move would undoubtedly stoke fury among critics of WikiLeaks who fume at what they see as the partisan nature of the organization’s activities, releasing only documents damaging to the Democratic nominee.
In the meantime, journalists and Assange supporters have been gathering outside Ecuador's London embassy, where the questioning could last several days. No glimpse of the man himself was to be had, but a cat thought to belong to Assange, one that has its own Twitter account, settled down at the window to watch proceedings outside, dressed in a collar and tie.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.