Embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to face the world’s media on Sunday from the safe haven of London’s Ecuadoran embassy but risks arrest if he takes even one step out of the building.
With police officers primed to detain him, Mr. Assange must find a way of speaking publicly without setting foot outside, raising the possibility of him being forced to speak from a balcony or lean out of a window.
WikiLeaks was tight-lipped about the logistics of Mr. Assange’s planned appearance at 9 a.m. ET, with spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson telling AFP what little he knew could not be discussed for “security reasons”.
But Britain’s Foreign Office warned that the steps to the embassy were considered British territory while police said officers would take “appropriate action” if he strayed from the building.
Assange, 41, took refuge in the embassy on June 19 to evade extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual misconduct.
Supporters of the Australian former hacker, granted asylum by Ecuador on Thursday, believe that once in Sweden he could be extradited to the United States.
WikiLeaks’ publication of a vast cache of confidential government files has enraged the U.S. government and his backers fear he could be tried on espionage charges there and face the death penalty.
WikiLeaks announced on Twitter late Saturday that the renowned Spanish lawyer Baltasar Garzon would speak outside the embassy from 6:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.
Mr. Garzon, known for pursuing Chile’s former dictator Augusto Pinochet, is helping Mr. Assange’s defence.
Despite Ecuador providing a haven for Mr. Assange, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said Britain has no choice but to seek his extradition.
In line with normal diplomatic practice, embassies are considered the territory of the countries they represent and the host country must seek permission to enter the premises.
Britain has angered Ecuador by suggesting it could invoke the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987, which it says allows it to revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy on British soil and go in to arrest Mr. Assange.
Fewer than 10 police officers and a handful of Mr. Assange supporters stood outside the embassy on Saturday.
Vaughan Smith, who invited Mr. Assange to stay at his home -- Ellingham Hall in Norfolk in eastern England -- for more than a year while he took his case to the Supreme Court, said he visited the Australian at the embassy three days ago.
“He lives in a small room which can hardly be described as comfortable,” he told London’s Evening Standard newspaper, adding, however, that he was “happiest behind a computer doing his job” and was coping well.
Media reports on Saturday said Australian diplomats believed Washington was targeting Mr. Assange for possible prosecution on charges including espionage and conspiracy relating to his WikiLeaks whistleblowing site.
But one expert said he believed this was unlikely.
“There is a dose of fantasy in all this,” said Chris Brown, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.
“The chances of him being extradited to the U.S. from Sweden are non-existent. If the Americans really want him, they would have asked us (Britain) for him,” he told AFP.
In 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of U.S. military documents on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic cables that deeply embarrassed Washington.