On the eve of his second anniversary of self-imposed confinement, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claims the publisher of information that governments, big business and security forces do not want to hear is as relevant as ever.
Speaking to reporters by phone on Wednesday, Mr. Assange insisted that WikiLeaks was still in the game, causing trouble and working hard to protect press freedom and whistleblowers, notably former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. With WikiLeaks’s help, Mr. Snowden evaded arrest and was able to flee last year from Hong Kong to Russia, where he is living in exile.
But it has been a few years since Mr. Assange, the ace hacker from Australia, has made front-page news around the world with sensational leaks that have rattled everyone from American military and intelligence organizations to the president of Tunisia, whose ouster in 2011 – and the start of the Arab Spring – was in part attributed to massive corruption revealed in leaked cables.
Mr. Assange, who is 42, has made news in the past two years, but most of it has been related to his own fight for freedom. Since June 19, 2012, he has been living under political asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid a British extradition order that would deliver him to Sweden to face police questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct or offences. Mr. Assange sought asylum for fear that the Swedish authorities would send him to the United States, where a grand jury is reportedly considering criminal charges against WikiLeaks for the release of classified security documents.
He said WikiLeaks will expose another secret cache of documents imminently with the publication of a massive file involving international relations. “There will be around 50 countries involved and Canada is one of them,” he said.
He would not provide details and would not confirm or deny whether the file was related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal being negotiated with 12 countries, including Canada. Late last year, WikiLeaks caused a minor sensation when it published a draft text of the agreement, triggering questions from lawyers about its apparently American-centric view on intellectual property rights. “You’ll have to check the website [Thursday],” is all he would say.
In spite of Mr. Assange’s attempts to keep the leak machine rolling, the site has yet to see a repeat of the sensation it triggered in 2010, when it published hundreds of thousands of confidential U.S. files, from embarrassing diplomatic cables to the infamous “Collateral Murder” video of an American Apache helicopter mowing down a dozen people in an attack in Iraq.
Mr. Assange’s legal team announced during his phone conference that it will mount a new legal challenge on Tuesday to the allegations of sexual misconduct involving two women in Sweden.
The new challenge came as Mr. Assange and his lawyers said they will send a letter next week to U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder calling for him to terminate the four-year criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. The letter was signed by more than 30 human-rights, free-speech and jurist organizations, including the American Association of Jurists.
Mr. Assange’s American attorney, Michael Ratner, said: “I don’t think that investigation has lessened.”
No charges have been laid by the Swedish authorities over the alleged sexual misconduct or offences. Even if the Swedish case were to be dropped, Mr. Assange fears he would face the same fate as Private Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year prison term for supplying massive amounts of military and diplomatic files to WikiLeaks.
Mr. Assange has not left the embassy once since he entered it two years ago. He lives in a small ground-floor apartment in the building in the heart of Knightsbridge, near the Harrods department store. He has been receiving many visitors, all of whom are subject to “aggressively demanding” questioning from the police, who circle the embassy night and day.
He is putting many kilometres on his cross-training machine. “It’s quite a lot, having spent two years here,” he said.
And he is watching a lot of TV, including the World Cup soccer games. “Of course, Ecuador deserves to win the World Cup,” he said.