LONDON — Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks website angered American officials by releasing official U.S. documents, on Thursday received a letter demanding his presence at a London police station the following day to begin the process of extradition.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London last week, seeking political asylum in a last-ditch attempt to evade extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on charges of rape and sexual assault.
The 40-year-old Australian was first arrested in London in December 2010 at the request of Swedish prosecutors asking to question him on allegations of sexual abuse committed in Sweden the previous August.
He denies the accusations but has lost a string of appeals in British courts to avoid being handed over to Sweden’s judiciary for questioning. Assange says his chief fear is that this would lead to further extradition to the United States, where he could face trial for Wikileaks’ actions.
He was under house arrest with an order to present himself daily to the nearest police station when he broke bail and took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy.
The customary dry statement from Scotland Yard announced that authorities had issued “a surrender notice upon a 40-year-old man that requires him to attend a police station at date and time of our choosing. This is standard practice in extradition cases and is the first step in the removal process.”
The statement added he was in breach of bail conditions and would be subject to arrest if he failed to surrender.
On Sunday, Ecuadorean Ambassador Anna Alban flew to her homeland to brief the government there on Assange’s situation.
In the meantime, Assange remains in legal limbo inside the small central London embassy awaiting a favorable word from Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, with whom he struck up an impromptu friendship after an interview he conducted as a talk show host on the state-sponsored Russia Today station.
The embassy is guarded by police ready to arrest him on breach of bail charges the minute he steps outside.
Assange is supported by WikiLeaks fans who in the past appeared at Assange’s every public appearance with banners saying “Free Assange, Free Bradley Manning,” the latter a reference to the U.S. Army analyst who awaits trial in the United States on charges of releasing the original discs with the official documents published by WikiLeaks.
On Monday, further support came as a letter from the U.S. lobbying group Just Foreign Policy asking Correa to grant asylum to Assange was handed to the embassy. Its signatories included leading filmmakers, writers, lawyers and civil rights campaigners, including Michael Moore, Oliver Stone and Noam Chomsky, in support of WikiLeaks’ release of cables. Assange’s offense in relation to the documents, they contended, was simply “that of practicing journalism.”
“There is a strong likelihood that once in Sweden, he would be imprisoned and … likely extradited to the United States,” they stated, adding: “Were he charged and found guilty under the Espionage Act, Assange could face the death penalty.”
[Source: LA Times]