A year in asylum, Assange digs in for the long haul

The Wikileaks founder says even if the Swedish investigation against him were dropped, he would not leave his 'space station' existence in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Frank Augstein/AP
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange show letters that read 'Free Assange' as they wait for his appearance in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in London Sunday. Today marks the anniversary of Mr. Assange seeking sanctuary in the embassy, where he is trying to avoid being extradited to

It’s been a year since Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, walked into the Ecuadorean embassy in London and sought political asylum, living there ever since as if in a “space station.”

In an interview with various news outlets marking today’s anniversary, he said that even if Sweden were to drop its investigation into sex allegations against him, he plans to stay put. That means London faces the prospect of an unusual guest for years to come.

"I wouldn't say I wouldn't leave," he said. But "my lawyers have advised me I shouldn't leave the embassy because of the risk of arrest and extradition to the United States."

Mr. Assange’s plight has drawn in equal measure support and disdain. Some call him a criminal and danger to security, others a crusader of freedom of information. And those same divides are apparent within the United Kingdom itself: just read the comments section of any Guardian article on the Wikileaks head, and the range of views are obvious. 

But it appears the UK, after a year hosting Assange, does not want another leaker in its midst. Britain last week warned global airlines not to let Edward Snowden, the American contractor who identified himself as the source of the leak about widespread American surveillance programs called PRISM, into British territory. And this was before Mr. Snowden released documents showing British intelligence spying on foreign diplomats at a G20 in London in 2009.

Assange linked Britain’s position on Snowden to his own, saying the country "doesn't want to end up with another Julian Assange," he said. Yet, Assange said, the UK should consider Snowden a hero and offer him asylum.

That’s not something that Britain was willing to do for Assange, who walked into the Ecuadorean embassy last June after the British government said it would send him to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sexual assault and rape. Assange, who maintains his innocence in that case, says his real fear is being extradited to the US for being behind one of the biggest leaks of confidential documents in US history.

Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, but he cannot leave the embassy in London because Britain promises to arrest him if he does. Recent talks between Ecuador and the UK did nothing to end the stalemate. So the status quo remains: Assange living without natural sunlight, relying on a sun lamp instead, and working 17-hour days in front of his computer, he says, with police on constant guard. He’s likened his circumstances to living in a space station.

Assange is not the only one to compare himself to Snowden. After Snowden answered questions on an online chat this week, Zeke Miller, in Time, draws parallels between the two men. “There were other clear echoes of Assange’s past remarks in Snowden’s responses Monday. Both men suggest that much, if not all, American spying abroad is wrong, including the spying on allies and foreign leaders that perhaps every government has practiced for decades, if not centuries,” Miller writes.

Assange has drawn critics who fault him for putting global security at risk, but also has his share of detractors who distinguish the issue of Wikileaks from the separate sex allegations he faces.

Snowden, meanwhile, has gotten some support in Britain for leaking information about PRISM, says Orla Lynskey, a lecturer in law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “What really struck people here was the disproportionate nature of that kind of intelligence, the blanket surveillance,” Ms. Lynskey says. “That’s where Snowden gets some support.”

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