LONDON – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Monday he will “soon” leave the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has taken refuge over the past two years to avoid extradition to Sweden.
“I am leaving the embassy soon,” Assange said in a joint news conference with Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, aired on Sky News, in which he however said his departure was not related with media reports saying he had heart and lung problems.
The 43-year-old Australian, who appeared with a beard and looking well, admitted however that the difficulties of living in a small room without being able to go outside because he would face arrest could affect any healthy person.
Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women, was granted asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London in August 2012.
The Australian feared that if he faced the Swedish justice Stockholm would extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for the publication on Wikileaks in 2010 of diplomatic correspondence denouncing U.S. abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Monday, Assange regretted that there had been no advances in the Swedish investigation and repeated several times no charges had been filed against him, in Sweden or the UK, while he denied having assaulted the two women.
However, his spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson did not give much credit to the departure of Assange from the embassy.
“The world is not coming to an end,” Hrafnsson told reporters after the press conference, adding that “the plan, as always, is to leave as soon as the UK government decides to honor its obligations in relation to international agreements.”
For his part, Patiño said Ecuador would maintain Assange’s status as a political refugee and would continue its dialogue with the UK and Sweden to find a solution.
“The time has come to free Julian Assange and for his rights to be respected,” he added, as he cited legal reforms in Britain which could impede the extradition of people who have not been formally charged by a court.
London reiterated on Monday its willingness to find a diplomatic solution to a “difficult and costly” situation, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
But despite the protection of Ecuador, the UK refuses to give the journalist a safe-conduct that would allow him to travel to Ecuador.