20 Dec 2012

WikiLeaks’ Assange gives Christmas speech

Julian Assange marks six months in his gilded Knightsbridge cage with a Christmas address from the balcony of London’s Ecuadorian embassy.

In a move perhaps more fitting of the Pope or the Queen, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gave his Christmas speech to supporters from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy on Thursday evening [see below].

He spoke at length about how the crowds gave him hope and about his commitment to free speech: “While my freedom is limited at least I am still able to communicate this Christmas.”

“We have to celebrate those who reveal the truth,” Mr Assange added. “The quality of our discourse is the limit of our civilisation.”

Despite his commitment to free speech and his promise that his door would always be open, Mr Assange has refused to give an interview to Channel 4 News for six months. When Channel 4’s Inigo Gilmore (see video, above) tried to ask Mr Assange a question, Mr Assange ignored him and continued speaking.

Senator Assange?

Thursday’s speech was perhaps a dry run for Mr Assange’s bid for the Senate in his native Australia. The 41-year-old told Fairfax Media in mid-December that he believes he will be able to register in either NSW or Victoria as an overseas voter and will make a “strategic decision” to determine which state to represent. Registration would require at least 500 members on the electoral roll under Australian Electoral Commission rules.

A Senate run would cap a surreal six months, even by Julian Assange’s standards. He was sharing Mr Smith’s country home in Norfolk while on bail fighting extradition to Sweden to be questioned on allegations related to rape. But he fled to the embassy after exhausting his UK legal appeals.

While he has been granted asylum in Ecuador, Mr Assange risks immediate arrest and extradition if he steps outside the front door. Mr Assange’s legal team fear he could also be rendered to Guantanamo after enraging the US government in 2010 by publishing tranches of secret US diplomatic cables.

At least for now, Mr Assange has decided to remain in the embassy and the safety of his small bedroom.

Lady Gaga visited him after popping into Harrods. And there was an Evita-style address to supporters in August. But the WikiLeaks chief has stayed largely out of sight for six months. In August, Mr Assange gave a “thumbs up” to supporters and a rambling speech from the same balcony, calling for the US to end its war on whistleblowers.

His WikiLeaks tweets are the only reminder that Mr Assange remains in the UK, defiant and determined. In the past, Mr Assange has likened his situation to the jailing of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, saying: “There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response.”