News People ‘Very stressed’: Assange remains inside UK embassy as drama unfolds and supporters rally

‘Very stressed’: Assange remains inside UK embassy as drama unfolds and supporters rally

It's not farewell just yet. Assange briefly steps out on the Ecuadorian embassy's balcony in 2017. Photo: AAP
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A “very stressed” but mentally stable Julian Assange remains holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London despite dramatic rumours he was set to be kicked out “within hours or days”.

The Wikileaks statement of his imminent expulsion – said to have come from a source inside the embassy –was denied by Ecuador’s foreign affairs minister Jose Valencia on Saturday morning (AEDT), who said the rumours were false and “insulting”.

Assange’s seven-year residential tenure escalated on Friday morning (AEDT) when Wikileaks took to social media in “breaking news” that its founder was going to be expelled.

A media throng and supporters – even a truck bearing an Assange billboard – turned up outside the embassy in Knightsbridge as did his many online supporters, including his mother Christine Assange, who called for a citizens’ vigil for his release to be live-streamed on the internet.

She continued rallying on Saturday, urging supporters to go to the embassy as peaceful protesters “with boots on the ground” and to get ready to live-stream his eviction.

None of that has happened.

Vaughan Smith tries to explain what’s going on. Photo: AAP

Friend Vaughan Smith, who coincidentally had a pre-arranged meeting with Assange inside the embassy as this latest drama unfolded, told reporters on Saturday (AEDT) it is tense inside that apartment building and that Assange doesn’t want to go anywhere.

“It is tense because he is expecting to be thrown out at any minute,” Mr Smith said outside the embassy as Ecuador denies it will expel Assange imminently, saying they are “unfounded rumours”.

“He perceives, and he’s right, the Americans have an extradition going on … and so if he is evicted from the embassy, he’ll be taken in the hands of the British police to await an extradition by America.”

He described Assange, 47, as being very stressed over the situation but that he was broadly healthy and his mental state was “stable”.

“His fear is he’ll be evicted from the embassy and then face extradition to America for potentially a life imprisonment,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Valencia took to Twitter to dismiss Friday’s reports.

“Rumours of the ‘imminent’ expulsion of Assange date back several months. The government won’t comment on the current unfounded rumours, which are also insulting,” he said.

“Ecuador makes its decisions in a sovereign manner, independently of other countries,” he said, adding that the government “has the right to grant or withdraw it (asylum) unilaterally when it feels it is justified”.

Assange’s legal team said in a statement quoted by the British Press Association: “Expelling Julian Assange would be illegal, violate international refugee law and be an attack on the UN which has repeatedly called for Assange to be able to walk free.

“It will be a sad day for democracy if the UK and Ecuadorean governments are willing to act as accomplices to the Trump administration’s determination to prosecute a publisher for publishing truthful information,” the statement read.

Assange has been holed up in the embassy since 2012 to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden on allegations of rape.

The Swedish judiciary has since dropped its investigation, but British authorities have said they will still arrest the Australian when he leaves the embassy because he violated his bail conditions by fleeing.

Assange fears being extradited to the US over the publication of hacked government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Among his online community of supporters, former CIA employee Edward Snowden who leaked classified NSA documents in 2013.

-with AAP