LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday called on the U.S. to end its "war on whistle-blowers" and demanded the release of Bradley Manning, the American soldier suspected of passing thousands of classified documents to Assange's secret-spilling website.
Assange made the appeal from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been holed up for two months in an effort to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault. It was the 41-year-old Australian's first public appearance since seeking refuge inside
the embassy June 19.
He was careful to remain on embassy property and thus out of reach of British police, who have vowed to arrest him the instant he crosses into the public domain. By international convention, embassies are the sovereign territory of the countries they represent.
Assange thanked Ecuador for granting him political asylum Thursday and said President Rafael Correa had displayed courage, although Correa has been criticized for cracking down on journalists in his own country.
Assange made no mention of the actual allegations he is fleeing –- namely, that he sexually assaulted two women in Stockholm in August 2010. The Swedish government had asked for his arrest and extradition from Britain so that investigators could question Assange, who acknowledges having sex with the women but insists that it was consensual.
Assange and his supporters say the allegations are merely a pretext for his eventual extradition to the U.S., which they believe wants to try him -– and perhaps execute him –- for espionage. As yet, no charges have formally been brought against Assange in the U.S.
"We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America," Assange told a crowd of supporters who waited outside the Ecuadorean Embassy, in one of London's toniest neighborhoods.
"Will it return and reaffirm the revolutionary values it was founded on, or will it lurch off the precipice and bring us all into a dangerous world in which journalists fall silent from the fear of prosecution?" Assange said. "I ask President Obama to do the right thing."
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange delivers a statement Sunday from a balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he has sought asylum in London. Credit: Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA