June 19 marks five years since Julian Assange sought asylum in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy amid sexual assault allegations made by two women in Sweden in 2010.
Despite Sweden’s chief prosecutor ditching the country’s rape case against him on May 19, Assange’s game of cat and mouse with London’s Metropolitan Police continues to play out.
Before he steps a foot outside London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, the 45 year old wants to be sure he will not be extradited to the US, where he faces possible espionage charges.
“Julian still needs assurances from the UK and the US,” WikiLeaks staffer Sarah Saunders tells WHO. “This exposes a bigger and more serious threat.”
If he left the embassy today, Assange would be arrested for breaching bail conditions in relation to the Swedish matter. “So he is subject to a prosecution in the UK,” says William A. Schabas, a professor of international law at London’s Middlesex University. “The maximum [sentence] would be 12 months imprisonment.”
But Schabas says it would be unlikely Assange would be jailed as it would be his first offence in the UK.
Assange’s real fear is the United States.
It is unknown if America has requested his extradition, because the US Home Office does not confirm if such a request has been made. However, the US Attorney-General, Jeff Sessions, said earlier this year that arresting Assange was a “priority.”
As for the UK, “We look at extradition requests on a case-by-case basis,” said UK Prime Minister Theresa May last month. “In relation to Julian Assange, any decision ... would be an operational matter for the police.”
Schabas says Assange’s Australian passport could be a factor in where he ends up: “I would think that the attitude [of the British authorities] would be, ‘If you can get a ticket and get out of the country and go to Australia, then we’ll take you to the airport so you can get on the next plane.’ ”
A UN panel found last year that Assange, who was born in Townsville, Queensland, was being “arbitrarily detained."
“Almost five years without sunlight, seven years without charge while my children grew up without me,” he said on May 19 (Assange has at least two children, whose identities he keeps private amid concerns for their welfare).
“And that is not something I can forget; it is not something I can forgive.”
To compensate for the lack of sunlight inside the room, he uses a sunlamp, and for exercise he runs on a treadmill.
“The last seven years has taken its toll," says Saunders. "And Julian and his family have paid a heavy price.”
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