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August 18, 2014 10:56 am
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has confirmed he will “soon” be leaving the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has sought refuge from prosecution for more than two years, admitting that his confinement had caused health problems.
“I can confirm I am leaving the embassy soon, but perhaps not for the reasons that the Murdoch press and Sky News are saying at the moment,” Mr Assange said at a news conference inside the embassy on Monday.
Reports in the British media had stated that the 43-year-old Australian was suffering from an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and a chronic cough.
When asked to clarify whether his health was a factor in his decision, he said: “In relation to my health, as you can imagine, being detained in various ways in this country without charge for four years, and in this embassy for two years, has [had an impact] . . . there is no outside area and therefore, no sunlight.”
He added the confinement was “an environment in which any healthy person would find themselves with certain difficulties to have to manage”.
Mr Assange has been holed up in the embassy since June 2012 in order to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex assault charges involving two women, which he denies. He fears this could lead to his extradition to the US, where he could face trial for divulging diplomatic and military information.
Although he was granted political asylum by the leftwing government of president Rafael Correa more than two years ago, the UK has refused to grant him safe passage, meaning he would be arrested the moment he steps out of the embassy in Knightsbridge, west London.
Mr Assange expressed frustration about his confinement and the slow pace of legal and diplomatic negotiations since he entered the embassy, but he refused to give any further details about when he might be leaving or why.
Mr Assange claimed the cost of the two-year Metropolitan Police operation to guard the embassy had reached £7m.
We will be continuing our work to find a friendly and diplomatic solution with governments involved and the international community and international bodies
- Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s foreign minister
Sitting alongside Mr Assange at the press conference, Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño stressed that the Australian’s “human rights should be respected”.
“Over the coming weeks I will be looking to try and set up a meeting with the UK foreign secretary,” he said.
“We will be continuing our work to find a friendly and diplomatic solution with governments involved and the international community and international bodies.”
However, lawyers have suggested that Mr Assange’s legal options are extremely limited. Edward Grange, extradition specialist at Hodge Jones Allen, said: “Mr Assange has already exhausted his legal options in the UK.”
Michael Caplan QC, partner at Kingsley Napley who practices in domestic, international, criminal and regulatory law, said the police would have to arrest Mr Assange if he left the embassy and arrangements would have to be made for extradition to Sweden.
“If he got to Sweden and there was then an extradition request from the US, then the UK and the home secretary would have to consent to it,” he said.
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