Assange calls for US to end ‘witch hunt’
London (CNN) Julian Assange demanded that the United States drop its “witch hunt” against WikiLeaks on Sunday as he made his first public appearance after months effectively confined to the Embassy of Ecuador in London.
“As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies,” the founder of website said to cheers from his supporters outside the embassy.
“The U.S. war on whistleblowers must end,” Assange said, calling for the freedom of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier suspected of giving hundreds of thousands of pages of secret American government documents to Assange for publication on WikiLeaks.
Assange also referred to The New York Times, the Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab and the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot in his 10-minute appearance.
The founder of WikiLeaks spoke from a balcony at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, where he has been holed up since June.
His lawyer Baltasar Garzon called earlier for him to be given safe passage to Ecuador from Britain.
“Mr. Assange is going to continue fighting for his rights,” Garzon declared, saying that Assange had instructed his legal team to take action.
Garzon, an attorney from Spain who is best known from his years as a crusading judge, did not say what that legal action would be. Garzon was barred from the Spanish bench earlier this year for authorizing the wire-tapping of corruption suspects speaking to their lawyers.
Assange fled to the embassy avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning about alleged sex crimes.
Sunday marks two months since Assange fled to the embassy. Monday marks two years since Swedish prosecutors first issued a warrant for his arrest, alleging that he raped one woman and sexually molested another.
Assange has been effectively confined for the past two months to the diplomatic mission — a suite of rooms covering half of one floor of a townhouse in a posh London neighborhood south of Hyde Park.
Ecuador raised the stakes in its diplomatic row with the United Kingdom on Thursday, officially offering Assange asylum in the South American country — but the British say they will not give him safe passage out of the embassy.
The Foreign Office says Britain has a legal obligation to hand him over to Sweden, after Assange’s legal efforts to avoid extradition were rejected by British courts up to the Supreme Court.
Garzon said that Assange was willing to answer Swedish prosecutors’ questions, but only if he is given certain guarantees.