WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said President Barack Obama is trying to exploit the Arab Spring revolutions for political gain, but added that his vocal support for freedom of expression throughout the region has not translated into action.
Assange’s comments on Wednesday to a gathering of diplomats at the United Nations General Assembly came through a satellite videolink from the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He has been at that diplomatic post for three months in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on allegations of sex offenses.
Ecuadorean foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, hosted the meeting amidst plans to again demand that England grant Assange safe passage to Ecuador when he meets his British counterpart, William Hague, on Thursday. Patiño accused the British government of violating Assange’s human rights, saying he could be stuck in the embassy in London for 10 years.
Assange focused largely on Barack’s Obama address to the UN on Tuesday in which the president gave a staunch defense of freedom of speech, and voiced American support for the revolutions in the Arab world.
Assange said that it was “audacious” for the U.S. government “to take credit for the last two years of progress”, given past American support for the ousted Arab dictators. He said the Tunisian street peddler whose suicide from despair over his life in January last year sparked the revolt, “did not set himself on fire so that Barack Obama could get re-elected”.
He added that it was “disrespect to the dead to claim that the United States supported the forces of change”.
Instead, Assange claimed that it was the leak of classified U.S. diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, allegedly by a soldier in military intelligence, Bradley Manning, that “went on to help trigger the Arab spring”.
Referring to Obama’s UN defense of the freedom of expression, Assange pointed to the treatment of Manning in a U.S. prison, where he was held in isolation, stripped and left naked for hours in his cell, and to the denunciation of WikiLeaks by American leaders.
“The time for words has run out,” Assange said. “It is time to cease the persecution of our people and our alleged sources. It is time to join the force of change, not in fine words but in fine deeds.”
Assange and the Ecuadorean government argue that if he goes to Sweden to face the sexual assault allegations against him, he could be extradited from there to the U.S. to face politically-motivated prosecution.
The British government said it is legally obliged to carry out Assange’s extradition after the Australian’s appeals in the British courts were rejected. It has also said that, according to European law, it would not allow extradition to the United States on charges that could result in the death penalty.