LONDON — Julian Assange believes his plight is Kafkaesque. Others describe it as cowardly.
Sweden may have dropped three sexual assault allegations against the WikiLeaks founder Thursday, but lawyers representing him insist there is no prospect of Assange ending his three-year stay at Ecuador’s embassy in London anytime soon.
A further allegation of rape will remain active in Sweden for another five years, meaning British authorities would attempt to extradite him if he set foot outside the embassy, where he is protected by asylum granted in Quito.
That leaves Britain, Sweden, and Ecuador locked into an increasingly bitter diplomatic spat over what the hell they should to do with Julian Assange.
Staff at the embassy are desperate to get rid of their guest but Britain won’t let him to get to the airport; Sweden has requested his extradition but Britain can’t go into the embassy to get him; Sweden is willing to question Assange in London but Ecuador won’t let the cops see him; Britain is sick of spending millions of dollars to stand guard outside but doesn’t want him to escape; and both Sweden and Britain are furious with Ecuador for granting Assange asylum in the first place.
While the three governments squabble, Assange and his legal team explain that the dispute over the European arrest warrant and outstanding rape allegation are essentially irrelevant. It is the United States that really holds the key.
Assange fears he will end up in an American prison cell like Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced by a U.S. military judge to 35 years in prison for passing stolen, classified documents to WikiLeaks.
Even in 2020, when the rape allegation is due to expire under Swedish law, Assange is still wanted in Britain for breaching bail conditions.
Once he is in custody, the U.S. could request extradition and put Assange on trial in a federal court.
“This collapse of part of the Swedish preliminary investigation in no way allows him to leave the embassy of Ecuador. He cannot leave, because of the risk of arrest by the United Kingdom on behalf of the United States,” said Gavin MacFadyen, of the Julian Assange Defence Committee. “The UK has stated its intention to arrest Assange even if the Swedish preliminary investigation is completely withdrawn.”
A statement from Assange, presumably typed at his computer, which has been set up along with a treadmill and a sun lamp—the embassy has no garden—in a small back office at the embassy in Knightsbridge, expressed his dismay at the continuing farce.
“I am extremely disappointed. There was no need for any of this. I am an innocent man. I haven’t even been charged,” he said.
“I am strong, but the cost to my family is unacceptable. Even though I have been improperly treated, I would like to thank the many people in Sweden and the UK who have been very understanding of the wrong which has been done to me and my family.”
Officials in London don’t show much sign of understanding. Britain’s ambassador in Quito was dispatched once again to make a formal protest to Ecuador.
“Ecuador must recognize that its decision to harbor Mr. Assange more than three years ago has prevented the proper course of justice,” said Hugo Swire, a Foreign Office minister. “It is completely unacceptable that the British taxpayer has had to foot the bill for this abuse of diplomatic relations.”
Ecuador’s patience may also be running out. A new ambassador, with a reputation for trouble-shooting, is due in London and he may be more proactive in trying to reach a deal.
During Assange’s unprecedented stay at the embassy, which is just behind Harrods in West London, the embassy has been thrown into chaos.
“Day has been turned into night, night into day,” a diplomat told The Times. “It is virtually impossible to conduct a normal diplomatic relationship when you are also functioning as a one-man boutique hotel.”
The embassy has reportedly been forced to introduce a card entry system for every door in order to limit Assange to his living quarters, for which Ecuador has been forced to employ 24-hour guards to keep an eye on him overnight.
Even the stream of celebrity visitors, which included John Cusack, Lady Gaga, and Pamela Anderson, has slowed to a trickle. For everyone’s sake, it’s time Assange found a new home.