When I learned that Julian Assange was to give a 2pm speech today at the Ecuadorian Embassy it seemed important enough that I should make an effort so after an early lunch I got on the train to London with my bike. It was raining lightly when I emerged from Kings Cross Station but it didn’t last long and I stayed reasonably dry on the ride over to Knightsbridge. It was about 1.30pm when I pulled up outside Harrods on Hans Crescent and locked up my bike. There was quite a crowd gathered already but they were confined to the pavements by barriers and the police were obviously intent on keeping the roads open to traffic. Because Julian was liable to arrest if he left the building his speech was to be delivered from a balcony and although the PA system was probably fine for people opposite the Embassy the reflections from buildings made voices unintelligible for anyone further away. There was a huge police presence with a particularly heavy cordon immediately in front of the Embassy building and a multitude of vans parked up in the area. The world’s press was there too with several outside broadcast units, perhaps a dozen video teams and dozens of photographers.
I think it was about 2.20pm when a big cheer went up and I looked over and saw Julian appear on the balcony, you should be able to just make out his blue sleeve and silver hair in the photo above. I wasn’t close enough to hear what he had to say but it is easy to find copies of the transcript, like this one at The Independent.
So what do I think about it all? We know he lost his legal battle against extradition to Sweden but Julian Assange has not actually been charged with any crime. The Swedish authorities say they want to interview him regarding some allegations but if they were interested in the truth they would have taken up his offer to be interviewed before he left Sweden or while on bail in the UK or more recently in the Ecuadorian Embassy. We know that the US authorities are not happy with the existence of WikiLeaks, that they have put pressure on banks to stop donations reaching WikiLeaks and that they have been trying to break Bradley Manning (the alleged source of some of the leaks) with the hope of getting him to reveal information which could lead to espionage charges against Julian. And then there was the staggeringly irresponsible threat from William Hague (possisbly as a result of pressure from the US?) to storm the Embassy in order to arrest Assange, a move that would have required abrogating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and losing legal protection for UK Embassies all over the world. Nordic News Network has some detailed information about the Swedish proceedings and everything seems to point to a stitch-up.
Anyway, I was glad to be there to bear witness to what was obviously going to be a defining moment. After things had returned to what passes for normal I headed back to Kings Cross, stopping for something to eat at Planet Organic. When I got home I found that the event had at least been covered by the BBC. It will be fascinating to see how things play out.