Despite rumours he was about to walk free, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not about to end his exile inside Ecuador’s London embassy.
Early Monday morning local time, media reports suggested Mr Assange was considering surrendering to British police due to health concerns.
The 43-year-old Australian, who has been inside the embassy for two years, then held a press conference in which he appeared to fan rumours about being freed following changes to British law.
Sitting beside Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, Mr Assange told journalists: “I can confirm I will be leaving the embassy soon” but did not elaborate.
But afterwards WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson made clear the rumours of Assange’s imminent departure weren’t true.
“The world is not coming to an end,” he told reporters inside the embassy.
“The plan (as always) is to leave as soon as the UK government decides to honour its obligations in relation to international agreements.”
Mr Assange held the press conference following several days of reports about his health.
Unfounded rumours of release
Mr Hrafnsson said he didn’t know where the rumours reported in the British media had come from.
A large media pack gathered outside the embassy following reports Mr Assange could leave the diplomatic mission where he’s avoiding extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault.
The Australian himself had a dig at the Murdoch press when asked about the rumours he was set to leave due to heart and lung conditions as well as high blood pressure.
“I am leaving the embassy soon,” he told reporters. “But perhaps not for the reasons the Murdoch press and Sky News are saying at the moment.”
Law change hopes
The WikiLeaks founder hopes recent changes to British extradition laws might encourage the UK government to reconsider its view that it is obligated to arrest the Australian if he leaves the embassy and send him to Sweden.
Earlier this year the law was changed to bar extradition if there’s no prosecution decision in the requesting territory.
Assange hasn’t been charged in Sweden but the changes to the British extradition laws aren’t retrospective so don’t apply in his case.
“(Nevertheless) the British parliament and the legal community has seen the abuses of my rights and the rights of many other Britons who have been extradited without charge,” the former computer hacker said.
“That has led to a package of law reforms which came into force last month. So I am thankful that the United Kingdom is standing up for the values of due process.”
‘Two years is simply too long’
Mr Assange fears Sweden could in turn extradite him to the United States to be tried for one of the largest leaks of classified information in US history.
“First of all, I have not been charged with an offence here in the United Kingdom or in Sweden at any time,” he said.
“Secondly, the basis under which my asylum was granted is the ongoing US investigation into me and WikiLeaks.”
Mr Patino did not mention a plan for Mr Assange to leave the embassy but called for the governments involved in his case to take action.
“The situation must come to an end – two years is simply too long,” he said.
“We continue to offer him our protection … we continue to be ready to talk with the British government and the Swedish government to find a solution to this serious breach of Julian Assange’s human rights.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Australian officials “have previously provided consular assistance to Mr Assange, but he has not requested any such assistance for some time”.
“If Mr Assange seeks consular assistance, the Government will extend an appropriate level of service according to the circumstances, but that assistance will not extend to intervening in UK or Swedish legal processes,” the spokesperson said.
It’s estimated the cost of British police maintaining a 24-hour watch outside the embassy has passed STG7 million ($A12.78 million).
—with AAP, ABC