2012-06-21 Transcript: Julian Assange's first interview from Ecuadorian Embassy

Julian Assange interview on ABC Radio National Breakfast, 21 June 2012. This is his first interview conducted since he applied for political asylum in Ecuador. At the time of this interview, Mr Assange had been at the Ecuadorian Embassy for three days. Full audio is available at the ABC Radio website.

Fran Kelly: And let's head straight to Britain where Julian Assange is about to spend his third night holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, as he awaits a decision on his bid for political asylum. The 40 year old Australian walked into the Embassy on Tuesday in a dramatic bid to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sexual assault allegations. Even if he's granted asylum in Ecuador, British police say they will arrest him as soon as he steps foot outside the embassy, accusing him of being in breach of his bail conditions. Julian Assange joins us now live from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Julian, welcome back to RN Breakfast.

Julian Assange: G'day, Fran. Good to be with you.

Fran Kelly: Julian Assange, why did you walk into the Ecuadorian Embassy?

Julian Assange: Well, I just noticed in your promo, Fran, you said 'dramatic bid to do something about Swedish'...

Fran Kelly: To avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning?

Julian Assange: Yeah, and that's... I don't know where you get that from. We've never said that's the case, and that's simply not the case. The issue is about a very serious matter in the United States and an announcement was made by the Swedes and the Swedish Government that I would be detained, without charge, in Sweden, immediately on extradition. They tried to cancel the 14 days that I had here to apply to appeal the matter at the European Court of Human Rights. So my opportunity to exercise my asylum rights in the United States was at an end. And this is not a matter of onwards extradition from Sweden to the United States. The situation here for me in the UK is extremely, has been extremely precarious. And the refusal by the Swedish prosecutor has led to a technical... the refusal by the Swedish prosecutor to come to the UK for the past 18 months, despite that being absolutely normal procedure, and the refusal of her to explain it in any matter whatsoever to the British court, has kept me trapped in the United Kingdom while the United States has prepared a case against me. We now have intelligence, public record, that the FBI file in its case preparation now runs to 48,135 pages.

Fran Kelly: Okay, let's break this down a bit just in the name of complete accuracy, Julian. Yes, I did say that you had sought political asylum in Ecuador to avoid extradition. What you're saying is, you did it because the Swedish Government had made an attempt to truncate your curtailed freedom as it already is there in the UK, but you are not prepared to go to Sweden under the terms that you believe you would be held in there. Is that what you're saying?

Julian Assange: That's right. My ability to exercise an asylum right would be at an end, and even to exercise rights of appeal, would be at an effective end because the Swedes announced publicly that they would detain me, in prison, without charge, while they continued their so-called investigation, without charge. So we had heard that the Ecuadorians were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the stuggles of the organization with the United States. And the ability to exercise that option was at an effective end and we had the surprise news that the Crown Prosecution Service here suddenly objected to the 14 days we were meant to have to file an EU appeal and were asking for zero.

Fran Kelly: Okay, I'll come back to those bigger issues, but just in the short term people, I think, are very interested in what indications you're getting from the Ecuadorians there in terms of the success of this application for political asylum.

Julian Assange: Well the Ecuadorian people have been quite supportive; I saw the Ecuadorian Ambassador in Australia was making supportive comments. Ecuador, back in 2010, suggested that perhaps I should come to Ecuador and be given residency. So they are sympathetic over a long period of time. So we hope the asylum application will be viewed favorably. Now it's a matter of gathering alleged sort-of extensive evidence about what has been happening in the U.S. and submitting that with a formal request for asylum. There's Ecuadorians on the outside of the Embassy, together with Londoners, protesting in the street, demanding that Ecuador accept the asylum application.

Fran Kelly: Have you gotten any indication of the timing of this?

Julian Assange: We have no indication of the timing.

Fran Kelly: When this happened, it took a lot of people by surprise, including many of your own supporters, and for some people, I believe, it made you look more guilty, it made you look like you're on the run, desperate to avoid questions about those sexual assault allegations.

Julian Assange: Well, this Swedish prosecutor, if the intent is really to proceed with the technical requirements of this case, she is perfectly entitled to come to Embassy, the Ecuadorians have said she could come to the Embassy, she could pick up the telephone, like she could've picked up the telephone for the past 18 months, if that's really what she is interested in.

Fran Kelly: And did you have legal advice suggesting you seek asylum in another country, including Ecuador?

Julian Assange: I spoke to several lawyers about the situation. In relation to sureties and other supporters, because of the sort-of legal requirements there, for their own protection I was not able to speak to them before I have to.

Fran Kelly: So your position is that you don't believe that the evidence suggests that the Swedes are really interested in having you there for questioning, because they could come to Britain to question you, and that's been your position all along. So you're more concerned, as you say, with what's been happening in the U.S. What makes you so worried about the Americans, because repeatedly the Americans are saying they are not interested in extraditing you?

Julian Assange: Well, they are being very, very careful with their words, Fran. They now have a 48,135 page FBI file, there's official statements made in court in the prosecution of Bradley Manning, the next date which is on Monday, saying the founders and managers of WikiLeaks are among the subjects of the grand jury proceedings, which has now been going since 2010. Their careful statements reflect that the Department of Justice is not able to formally confirm or deny the existence of the grand jury, a policy with all grand juries. But there are subpoenas everywhere, there are witnesses who have come out on public record about how they've been dragged into the grand jury, we have received subpoenas, the subpoenas mention my name, in the past months two people have been detained at U.S. airports by U.S. officials and interrogated by the FBI, asked questions about me and my organization, asked to become informers - one of those has gone on the public record, he's a prominent free speech activist of France, Jérémie Zimmermann - and the other, Smári McCarthy, who has worked with me in Iceland. This is a hot, ongoing, active investigation. And as of two weeks ago.

Fran Kelly: It's a quarter past six on Breakfast, our guest this morning is Julian Assange. He's currently inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he arrived three days ago now seeking political asylum. In terms of the public record, the Australian Government says they've received no indication that the U.S. would seek your extradition from Sweden if you were to go there. Can I just play you - we spoke to the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon about this yesterday - let's have a listen.

Nicola Roxon (recording): We have, I've made clear that I've made representations... [Kelly: And the answer was?] Let me tell your listeners who those have been made to - because it's not just the Ambassador - the Minister for Homeland Security, the Deputy to Attorney-General in the U.S.; we have from all of those conversations no indication that they are about to take action, and we have also said that we don't believe, now having taken advice from the federal police, that we have any evidence of Mr Assange having committed any offence that would breach an Australian law.

Fran Kelly: So that's the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon speaking to us yesterday, no indication that the Americans are about to take legal action. That doesn't reassure you? And is that what the Australian Government is telling you?

Julian Assange: But they are taking legal action. There have been nine prosecutors working this case, the evidence is everywhere, they've been issuing subpoenas to our ISPs, to the people I've been meeting, etc. It's a matter of public record. They are taking legal action. They've taken action against Twitter. We've been fighting a legal case in the public record in relation to the Twitter subpoenas for over a year now; it involves the ACLU, etc, etc. So they're playing word games here. The games that they're playing is that the grand jury needs to conclude. On the conclusion of the grand jury process, they... The grand jury is a device, a judicial device, if you like - it does not seem to be part of the executive - and so they can say they are not about to extradite, because the grand jury has not yet concluded. On the conclusion of the grand jury, the Department of Justice will take the indictments of the grand jury and pursue the matter. They are certainly spending vast amounts of resources; I mean, just today it was discovered that a contract put out by the Department of Justice for one to two million dollars to maintain the WikiLeaks computer systems that the Department of Justice is running - one to two million dollars contracted to MANTEC as a matter of public record, just discovered today.

Fran Kelly: So, you're clearly agitated, understandably, if you believe that the U.S. is preparing this extradition treaty for you. Therefore, your future is very much up in the air, you're waiting to hear whether the Ecuadorian Government will give you protection. Do you feel cornered? Because the British police are saying if you set foot outside that Embassy, you will be arrested.

Julian Assange: Well, there's, I think, an important question is why aren't I in the Australian Embassy?

Fran Kelly: Why didn't you seek protection in the Australian Embassy?

Julian Assange: Because Nicola Roxon, after very reasonable requests made by my lawyer Jennifer Robinson to her in a half an hour meeting, and following reasonable requests by one of the most celebrated human rights lawyers who represents me here in the UK, Gareth Pierce, asking them to ask for very simple conditions of the Swedes - such as that if I was imprisoned in the United States and I could serve my sentence in Australia - refused any of those requests, refused to consult in any extradition to the United States, refused to be involved in any of those discussions, refused to ask that the Swedes come and solve this matter by simply coming and speaking to me in the UK, etc. So this is has been an effective declaration of abandonment; there is not a single matter of concern under which the Australian Government, as represented by the Attorney-General, would ask other governments to be reasonable or just in this case.

Fran Kelly: Again, I put that to the Attorney-General yesterday. Do you want to hear her - let's hear her response.

Nicola Roxon (recording): I totally reject that he has been abandoned by the Government. We've offered support to him through consular services, we've made representations to the British Government, to the Swedish Government, to the U.S. Government.

Fran Kelly: That's what the Attorney-General said yesterday in terms of... and the Government has also said that you have received as much or more consular support as anybody else has in matters like this.

Julian Assange: There is no matter like this at all, everyone knows that. But y'know, maybe that's up until this recent case in Libya, maybe that's true even. The Australian Government simply does not support it's people. There's a journalist, Austin Mackell, who's trapped in Egypt and he also has exactly the same complaints I have. These are empty words. When you hear this word "consular assistance" - I haven't met with anyone from the Australian High Commission since December 2010. What are they talking about?

Fran Kelly: So you've had no consular contact with the Australian High Commission since 2010?

Julian Assange: Well, they send SMS messages, 'Does Mr Assange have any concerns?' But we know what this is for: this is so they can just tick off a box. And yes, we formally put our concerns to the Attorney-General and the response was dismissal in every single area.

Fran Kelly: And have you formally put to the Australian Government, ask them to seek reassurances from the U.S. about any plans to extradite you and what those answers are?

Julian Assange: Yes, we have formally put requests to Nicola Roxon and DFAT to ask that the United States... I can't remember the exact request, but for instance for the prisoner transfer arrangement and so on. And she rejected this in every single area. In relation to the sort-of clever rhetoric that's being used at the moment, when they say that there is not... we have not received evidence from the United States that they plan to extradite - of course not. At the moment the matter is before the grand jury and until it comes out of the grand jury there will be no such evidence afforded. And you look at other questions of Gillard, for example, where the follow-up question... Sorry, sorry, to the Foreign Minister - 'Is there any indication, any evidence from the U.S. that they will try to extradite Mr Assange' and the Foreign Minister says, 'Oh no, no, of course not'. Follow-up question, 'Have you asked for any evidence?' - no!

Fran Kelly: So, Julian Assange, let's go to what's next for you. If Ecuador doesn't grant you asylum, what's Plan B?

Julian Assange: Well, we're in the position to draw attention to what it happening. Y'know, the Department of Justice in the United States has been playing a little game, and that little game is they refuse to confirm or deny the existence of a grand jury. And as a result, the press goes, 'Oh well, they don't confirm it, and therefore we can't really write about it'. That's not true; there's public record everywhere, there's multiple witnesses everywhere, there's testimony in military courts about the existence of what is happening in these 48,000 pages, and that the founders and managers of WikiLeaks are amongst the subjects. So, we hope what I am doing now will draw attention to the underlying issues. In a case where the truth in on your side, what is most against you is lack of scrutiny. So, y'know, I welcome the lack of scrutiny - welcome the scrutiny. People should go to http://justice4assange.com/ and they can read about some of these issues. Good journalists in Australia, such as Phillip Dorling who's been heroic in exploration of the FOI traffic between Australia and the U.S., are also showing that there are serious issues here, and they are being hidden through slimy rhetoric coming out of the U.S. Ambassador to Australia, by Gillard, and by the Foreign Minister. And that really needs to stop.

Fran Kelly: Is scrutiny really what you're after here, rather than a life and a future in Ecuador? What if you're granted political asylum? Are you ready for a life in Ecuador? And also, back to that original question, do you think you'd ever make it there given what the British Metropolitan Police are threatening: to apprehend you if you stepped foot outside the embassy?

Julian Assange: Well, a life in Ecuador, I mean these are friendly generous people, is much better than a life behind bars in the United States under SAMS restrictions which are Guantanamo Bay-like restrictions, which they routinely apply to people accused of espionage. You can't speak, can't communicate, because I might communicate some password or something. And this is a routine matter that is applied in these sorts of cases.

Fran Kelly: And in terms of a life in Ecuador, amongst more than friendly people - no doubt they are - but Ecuador's justice system and record on free speech has been criticized by Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Boarders, Amnesty International... You know, it seems ironic, really, that you, the founder of WikiLeaks, would be seeking protection in a country which is criticized as limiting free speech.

Julian Assange: Well, it's free speech issues are certainly no worse than ones in the UK. I mean, this is the country with hundreds of gag orders, so let's keep things in perspective. I mean, I would enjoy campaigning for the rights of journalists in Ecuador.

Fran Kelly: Do you think you'd have the freedom to do that? I mean, Human Rights Watch says journalists get locked up for doing that.

Julian Assange: Well, look. Human Rights Watch is based in New York. Ecuador has an issue with Chevron, which is a U.S. company, and so on. There's been a lot of tussles between the U.S. and Ecuador which is one of the reasons why Ecuador, I presume, would be happy to grant me asylum because they understand the difficulties when you square off with the United States.

Fran Kelly: Julian Assange, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

Julian Assange: Thank you, Fran. B-bye.

Fran Kelly: Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks. He's currently taken refuge, sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he's made an application for political asylum, and he's still waiting, as we heard, for that decision by Ecuador. And as he does, the world watches.

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