WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange berated the United States yesterday from the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy where he has sought refuge from arrest, challenging President Barack Obama to end what he called a “witch hunt” against his whistle-blowing website.
Speaking from within the London mission to avoid being detained by British police who want to extradite him to Sweden for questioning over rape allegations, Assange said the United States was fighting a war against outlets like WikiLeaks.
Pitching himself alongside Russian punk band Pussy Riot and the New York Times newspaper, Assange said the United States risked shunting the world into an era of journalistic oppression. He did not mention the rape allegations.
“I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks,” Assange said in a 10-minute speech.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, a self-declared enemy of “corrupt” media and U.S. “imperialism,” granted the former computer hacker political asylum last week, deepening a diplomatic standoff with Britain and Sweden.
Asylum in Ecuador marked the latest twist in a tumultuous journey for Assange since he incensed the United States and its allies by using his WikiLeaks website to leak hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic and military cables in 2010, disclosures that often embarrassed Washington.
Assange took sanctuary in the embassy in June, jumping bail after exhausting appeals in British courts against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning regarding allegations of rape and sexual assault against two women.
To allow Assange to avoid arrest by stepping outside the embassy, a balcony door on an upper floor was removed, leading up to his first public appearance since seeking refuge in the diplomatic mission.
Assange thanked Correa and Ecuador’s diplomats, whom he praised for standing up against oppression.