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Julian Assange Addresses Public, Urges US to End “Witch Hunt”

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made his first public appearance in months on Sunday, delivering a speech on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London in which he urged the United States to end its “witch hunt” against his organization and to stop targeting whistleblowers.

The Washington Post reports that Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy for the last two months after skipping bail in London before being extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges, focused on US actions in his speech and called on Washington to end its war on whistleblowers.

“I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks,” Assange said.

“The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters,” he continued, calling on the US to release Bradley Manning, an Army soldier accused of passing classified information, some of it pertaining to US war crimes and atrocities, to Wikileaks. Manning’s treatment while in US custody has been the subject of a United Nations investigation. Assange called Manning “one of the world’s foremost political prisoners.”

“If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to us all,” he said.

Assange also asserted that the United States was at a crucial crossroads.

“Will it return to and re-affirm the revolutionary values it was founded on? Or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark?” he asked.

Assange also drew a parallel between himself and jailed members of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot, who were convicted yesterday of hooliganism for criticizing President Vladimir Putin and sentenced to two years imprisonment.

“There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response,” he said.

Assange, a 41-year-old Australian, rose to international fame in 2010 after publishing massive document dumps of classified US military and diplomatic documents. Many of those documents revealed US war crimes and atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as instances of the US ignoring war crimes and atrocities committed by key allies.

While in Sweden publicizing Wikileaks’ disclosures, Assange got himself in legal trouble with a pair of women who claimed he raped them. Assange says the sex was consensual.

Assange, who had an international arrest warrant issued against him by Interpol, turned himself in to London police in December 2010. He was granted bail shortly thereafter while he fought efforts to have him extradited to Sweden to face the sex crime charges. Fearing that the US was secretly preparing to charge him in connection with the Wikileaks document dumps, and that he could face the death penalty in America if Sweden extradited him there, Assange sought– and was granted-– asylum in Ecuador.

In the run-up to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s decision to grant Assange asylum, British authorities threatened to storm Ecuador’s London embassy to seize the fugitive under the provisions of an obscure law. In his Sunday speech, Assange said that the UK only held back because there was a vigil of supporters watching outside the embassy.

“Inside this embassy in the dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up inside the building through its internal fire escape,” he said. “If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Convention (which established diplomatic missions as sovereign territory) the other night, it is because the world was watching.”

Britain has said it will not give Assange safe passage from the embassy, effectively trapping him there indefinitely. Former Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who is representing Assange and who won international acclaim by using the  legal principle of universal jurisdiction to go after notorious human rights violators like former US-backed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, said that Ecuador could appeal to the International Court of Justice to compel the UK to grant Assange safe passage.

Assange hailed Ecuador as “a courageous Latin American nation” that “took a stand for justice.” He claimed that other Latin American governments, such as Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, had expressed their support, but so far only Argentina has endorsed Ecuador’s move to grant him asylum.

South American foreign ministers met in Guayaquil, Ecuador on Sunday and condemned British aggression against that country. Foreign ministers of the Organization of American States will meet on Friday in Washington, DC to discuss the issue.

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