LONDON (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will on Friday mark three years stuck in Ecuador’s London embassy where he took refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes and what he believes would be his eventual handover to U.S. authorities.
Assange entered the South American country’s embassy on June 19, 2012, to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual assault and rape involving two women, accusations which he denies.
He says he fears Sweden will extradite him to the United States where he could be put on trial over WikiLeaks’ publication of classified military and diplomatic documents five years ago, one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.
The leaks infuriated Washington and, his critics say, damaged U.S. security and put lives at risk. His supporters say they exposed embarrassing government and corporate secrets.
WikiLeaks says the 43-year-old Australian has effectively been detained, without charge, in prison, under house arrest and at the embassy for almost five years since he was first arrested by British police in December 2010.
“Until Mr Assange’s right to effective protection from extradition to the U.S. is recognised, he will continue to endure prolonged and arbitrary detention, a legally uncertain and precarious situation,” WikiLeaks said in a statement on Wednesday.
“This situation should not be tolerated or, worse still, abetted by any state which subscribes to the most basic human rights protections.”
Ecuador, which has granted him political asylum, has been trying with Britain to find a way to break the impasse, while on Monday, Swedish prosecutors said they had submitted a request to British authorities and to Ecuador asking permission to question Assange at the embassy in June or July.
Assange says his health has deteriorated since he has been living in the embassy’s cramped quarters in central London with no access to direct sun or fresh air.
He faces immediate arrest for breaching bail conditions if he leaves, and British police have guarded the embassy round the clock for the last three years at a cost estimated at more than 10 million pounds ($15 million).
Reporting by Michael Holden