WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared today for the first time since he took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, calling for the release of Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking documents to the whistlebowling website, and urging President Obama to “do the right thing” and end the “witch-hunt” against WikiLeaks.
For the past two years, Assange, 41, has fought extradition efforts to send him to Sweden, where he faces questioning over alleged assault. The Australian has said he fears Swedish authorities will hand him over to U.S. officials.
Ecuador granted Assange political asylum Thursday, but he has been threatened with arrest if he leaves the country’s 10-room London embassy, where he has been holed up for the past two months.
Appearing on a balcony, Assange read a prepared statement to more than 200 supporters, reporters and dozens of British police.
“I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks,” Assange said. “The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters.”
Assange called Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier who is accused of passing classified material to WikiLeaks, “one of the world’s foremost political prisoners.”
“If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to us all,” Assange said. “Bradley Manning must be released.”
On Wednesday, Manning had entered his 815th day of detention without a trial. The legal maximum is 120 days, Assange said.
During his brief remarks, Assange also thanked Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa for “the courage he has shown in considering and granting me political asylum.”
In an address last week, Correa discussed the decision to grant Assange political asylum.
“We’ve never said that Julian Assange shouldn’t answer to the Swedish justice system nor contribute to the investigation into these supposed crimes,” he said.
“What we have always asked for is a guarantee that there won’t be a second extradition to a third country, as that would put at risk Mr. Assange’s life and freedom,” he said.
Correa also responded to what he called a “threat” sent in a letter from the British government, which said officials could lift the embassy’s diplomatic status, allowing officers to enter the embassy and arrest Assange.
The UK’s Foreign Office later told the BBC the letter had been sent to clarify “all aspects of British law that Ecuador should be aware of.”
Correa stood his ground and fired back in his weekly address.
“Who do they think they’re dealing with?” he said. “They don’t realize Latin America is free and sovereign. We won’t tolerate interference, colonialism of any kind.”
For the time being, Assange remains safe in the confines of the embassy, which is considered Ecuadorean soil, however in order to reach the country, he will have to make it to an airport and board a flight to South America, all while evading arrest by British police.
Read more: ABC NEWS