LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has defied a British police request to report to a London police station to begin extradition proceedings to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sexual assault allegations.
Assange, who has won wide public support for revealing diplomatic and international business secrets on the WikiLeaks website, took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy this month, seeking political asylum.
Susan Benn, a member of the Julian Assange Defense Fund, read a statement outside the embassy Friday saying that Assange "has been advised that he should decline to comply with the police request."
It was no sign of disrespect, she insisted, but "under both international and domestic U.K. law, asylum assessments take priority over extradition claims."
"The issues faced by Mr. Assange are serious," she went on. At stake was "the life and liberty" of Assange and those associated with WikiLeaks.
Before his move to the embassy, Assange, who denies wrongdoing, had been living under house arrest in Britain since December 2010, most of it spent in the country mansion of one of his supporters.
He has lost several appeals against his extradition; he reportedly fears that he could later be extradited to the United States, where he could face charges of espionage.
Dozens of WikiLeaks supporters stood with placards outside the embassy as Benn read her statement asserting that the U.S. government "has instigated a grand jury against Assange and other founders … of WikiLeaks," adding, "There is irrefutable evidence of subpoenas being issued and witnesses being compelled to testify against Mr. Assange."
Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier suspected of leaking the documents to WikiLeaks, is in U.S. custody awaiting a court-martial.
Benn’s statement spoke of "credible reports that a sealed indictment has already been made against Mr. Assange" and referred to newspaper reports "that informal talks between the U.S. and Sweden had been conducted."
She concluded that Assange "did not feel safe from U.S. extradition in the U.K." either, and would remain in the Ecuadorean Embassy "while evidence for his application [for asylum] is assembled and processed."
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gather outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Friday. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press