LONDON — On Monday, Swedish prosecutors finally began questioning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London, where he’s lived on asylum for more than four years.
After UN & court findings condemning 6 years of abuses by Sweden against Assange, Sweden finally takes his statement for the first time ever
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 14, 2016
Assange entered the embassy on June 19, 2012 under threat of extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning on charges of sexual assault. Assange allegedly refused to wear a condom during sex with two women in 2010. He denies this claim and has not been formally charged with any crime.
He was granted asylum by Ecuador amid concerns that Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where it’s believed that he could face decades in prison or even the death penalty under charges brought by a secret, ongoing federal grand jury.
Until recently, Sweden had refused to question Assange at the embassy, insisting that he leave the embassy to travel abroad for questioning. Embassy officials have frequently criticized Sweden’s refusal to travel to the embassy.
“There was no need for the Swedish authorities to delay for over 1,000 days before agreeing to carry out this interview, given that the Swedish authorities regularly question people in Britain and received permission to do so on more than 40 occasions in recent years,” said Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s foreign minister, in an interview with International Business Times published on Monday.
The Guardian’s Esther Addley and David Crouch reported that Ingrid Isgren, Sweden’s deputy chief prosecutor, began questioning Assange on Monday morning. Three days have been set aside for the interview, which will be carried out by an Ecuadorean prosecutor and must follow a list of questions submitted by Sweden earlier this year.
Isgren is allowed to ask Assange to clarify his answers to those questions, but she may not ask any questions not already on that list. Addley and Crouch reported that she plans to ask Assange to submit to a DNA test.
It’s widely believed that Assange’s mental and physical health have deteriorated dramatically from his years of confinement. In September, WikiLeaks released a December 2015 psychosocial medical evaluation of Assange, in which a doctor whose name was redacted by WikiLeaks, wrote: “Mr Assange’s mental health is highly likely to deteriorate over time if he remains in his current situation.”
In February, a United Nations panel ruled that his treatment constitutes “arbitrary detention,” a human rights violation.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 13, 2016
Despite Ecuador’s continued support of Assange’s claim of asylum, the embassy cut off his internet access last month. However, even with Assange disconnected, WikiLeaks continued to publish throughout the election season, including the release of a large archive of emails taken from the private Gmail account of John Podesta, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair. Assange supporters have been working to restore his internet access using Wi-Fi hotspots set up near the embassy.
It's getting serious at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Swedish prosecutors are interviewing Assange – the cat is wearing a tie and collar. pic.twitter.com/HPwhEjVJfr
— Yui Mok (@YuiMok) November 14, 2016
The Guardian reported that human rights activists and WikiLeaks supporters gathered outside the embassy as questioning began on Monday. Among them was Peter Tatchell, a well-known British human rights activist, who told The Guardian:
“I have always said that Julian Assange should answer the serious sex allegations. For the last six years he has been willing to answer those allegations. He has never been charged with any offence.”
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