Assange hits out at US Wikileaks witch-hunt and calls for release of Bradley Manning

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has called on US President Barack Obama to end what he described as a witch-hunt against the controversial whistleblowing organisation.
 
In a statement on Sunday, Mr Assange said: “The US must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters.”

By a Newsnet reporter
 
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has called on US President Barack Obama to end what he described as a witch-hunt against the controversial whistleblowing organisation.
 
In a statement on Sunday, Mr Assange said: “The US must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters.”

He continued: “The US must pledge before the world that it will not prosecute journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful.”

Mr Assange was speaking from a balcony at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London where he has been granted political asylum in an attempt at evading extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault.  The Ecuadorean government has expressed concern that once in Sweden, Mr Assange may be handed over to the American authorities.

In a speech in front of the world’s media and hundreds of supporters, the controversial Australian also demanded the release of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier suspected of giving hundreds of thousands of pages of secret American government documents to Assange for publication on WikiLeaks.

Mr Manning has been held for over eight hundred days without trial in conditions described by a UN observer as cruel and inhuman.

According to his lawyer, David Coombs, for months after his arrest in May 2010, the soldier was held in a 6 foot by 8 foot cell for 23 or 24 hours a day.  When not sleeping, it is claimed that Mr Manning was banned from lying down, or even using a wall to support him.

Speaking from his safe haven, Mr Assange said: “Bradley Manning must be released.  If Bradley Manning did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to all of us and one of the world’s foremost political prisoners,”

He added: “As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies,

“The U.S. war on whistleblowers must end,”

Mr Assange has been living within the confines of the Ecuadorean Embassy since June after his appeal against extradition to Sweden was dismissed by a panel of judges.

Last week saw the situation escalate when the UK Government threatened to storm the embassy in order to seize Mr Assange.  The Ecuadorean government responded by stating such an act would be interpreted as hostile and immediately sought support from other Latin American states.

“Who do they think they’re dealing with?” Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa asked during his weekly address. “They don’t realise Latin America is free and sovereign.  We won’t tolerate interference, colonialism of any kind.”

In a statement this weekend, the Union of South American Nations warned that the UK faced “grave consequences” if it entered the Ecuadorean Embassy: “We warn the government of the United Kingdom that it will face grave consequences around the world if it directly breaches the territorial integrity of the Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador in London,”

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has vowed not to allow Assange safe passage from the Embassy which has resulted in an expensive standoff with London Police Officers now employed in a round the clock monitoring of the building.