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Assange anniversary: One year in the Ecuadorean Embassy

£3 million in police costs, hundreds of miles on a treadmill, celebrity visits - but WikiLeaks boss can't get out.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of Ecuador's Embassy, in central London. Credit: Reuters WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of Ecuador's Embassy, in central London.
Credit: Reuters

Inside the gold-framed double doors, the Ecuadorean Embassy of London is a modest apartment with white-painted walls and simple furniture. Not the most fitting residence for a world famous hero, or villain.

But since June 19, 2012, WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange has gone from pioneer to captive, forced into hiding to avoid extradition to Sweden where charges on sexual assault await him. The Australian will be arrested if he steps outside the building, so the jet-set lifestyle has been replaced by a single room and his laptop.

DVD box sets of "The Twilight Zone" and "The West Wing" keep him company, and an ultraviolet lamp replaces daylight. Assange lives nocturnally according to reports, working until dawn supported by heavy doses of caffeine.

The 41-year-old has not been forgotten, from the crowds outside his window shouting “freedom fighter”, to his generous hosts that have granted him asylum and allowed him to cramp their workplace. Further, celebrity guests from Lady Gaga to Oliver Stone have visited, with British filmmaker Ken Loach donating a treadmill on which the captive runs miles each day.

“He’s very robust and seems in good health,” friend, visitor and restaurateur Vaughan Smith told Metro, adding that Assange "gets along well with the staff”. However, an embassy source confirmed that the experience has been “difficult”.

Yet confinement has been put to good use according to acting WikiLeaks chief Kristin Hrafnsson. “The time he saves not traveling is devoted to work and he gets a lot done,” Hrafnsson said. “We have had to move the staff around to cover this but the material is still coming out and our work has not been badly affected.”

This previously-quiet corner of London has been impacted, however, with a 24-hour police presence that has cost over £3 million to date. “Most of us are bemused and don’t know why he is being protected, and why we are spending so much,” local resident Karen Morgan-Thomas told Metro, adding that constant protests have been an irritation.

Yet despite the situation attracting ridicule, it could last “another five years” according to Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño, with no diplomatic solution in sight. Plenty more miles on the treadmill await the lord of leaks.

 
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