WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – hiding for two years in the Ecuadorian embassy – is in “a prison cell with internet access” and “yearns to walk in the fresh air,” says a close friend.
The 42-year-old walked into the embassy in June 2012 in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden and has been there ever since.
He allegedly sexually assaulted two women in Stockholm, but Mr Assange fears he that if he goes to Sweden he will be extradited to America after he enraged the White House by releasing thousands of its secrets in 2010.
He’s learned a lot – he’s certainly a different person Vaughan Smith, friend of Julian Assange
On Wednesday, Mr Assange was due to mark his two years in the embassy with a conference call to journalists.
Journalist Vaughan Smith, who gave refuge to Assange in 2010, says the Wikileaks website founder is fine but longs for freedom.
He said: “I went to see him six weeks ago, and he seemed absolutely normal.
“It’s like he’s in a prison cell, but a prison cell with the internet.
“He craves freedom, he can’t buy his own food and he would love to have the chance to have a normal walk in the fresh air.
“He’s learned a lot – he’s certainly a different person.”
US military secrets revealed by Assange include evidence that a US military helicopter crew in Iraq gunned down a dozen people in July 2007 after falsely claiming to have been shot at.
Ecuador has granted Mr Assange political asylum on human rights grounds and that if he was eventually extradited to the US, would face persecution and could be tortured.
Metropolitan Police officers have been standing outside the Knightsbridge embassy building since the WikiLeaks founder took refuge there in June 2012 – a vigil costing £11,000 per day – a total of more than £6.5m since Assange’s arrival.
Channel 4 News understands there are three Scotland Yard officers waiting outside the embassy to arrest him at any one time.
At least one stands on the steps and others will question visitors leaving in case it is Assange in disguise.
Mr Smith added that Mr Assange has a value to Britain which the authorities need to recognise: “History will put him in a certain context – you wouldn’t have whistleblower Edward Snowden out of prison without Julian Assange, and I think Julian believes he will be extradited to the US if he goes to Sweden.
“He is being bullied by the UK – I visit him because I am concerned for his welfare.
“It seems the British authorities are trying to appease the Americans.”