Hunt labels Assange ‘free man’ amid embassy expulsion rumours

Julian Assange is a “free man” who can leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London whenever he wants, the foreign secretary has said, after fears were raised he was about to be expelled.

WikiLeaks said its sources in Ecuador had revealed Mr Assange could be removed from the building “within hours to days”.

It is understood the source was regarded as credible by the anti-secrecy organisation.

Ecuador’s foreign ministry released a statement saying it “doesn’t comment on rumours, theories or conjectures that don’t have any documented backing”, but a senior Ecuadorian official said no decision had been made.

Jeremy Hunt said: “Julian Assange is a free man, he can leave that embassy whenever he wants to, so we want the situation resolved as quickly as possible.”

Asked how likely that was, the foreign secretary said it is “up to him”, adding: “Well, he’s a free man, he can decide what he wants to do.”

Ciaron O’Reilly, a supporter of Julian Assange, outside the Ecuadorian Embassy
Ciaron O’Reilly, a supporter of Julian Assange, outside the Ecuadorian Embassy

Supporters arrived at the embassy throughout Friday morning, holding up posters and signs calling for Mr Assange to be allowed to leave without fear of being arrested.

WikiLeaks believes Mr Assange will be extradited to the United States if he leaves the building.

An Ecuador official said President Lenin Moreno was angered by the apparent hacking of his personal communications.

On Tuesday, Mr Moreno blamed WikiLeaks for recent allegations of offshore corruption that appeared in local media outlets and the publication of family photos to social media.

Mr Moreno accused WikiLeaks of intercepting phone calls and private conversations as well as “photos of my bedroom, what I eat, and how my wife and daughters and friends dance”.

He provided no evidence, and WikiLeaks has denied any involvement.

WikiLeaks in a statement called Mr Moreno’s charges “completely bogus”, saying it reported on the accusations of corruption against the president only after Ecuador’s legislature investigated the issue.

Julian Assange extradition
Julian Assange extradition

A van arrived at the London Embassy bearing a billboard in support of Mr Assange, and parked in a space reserved for diplomats.

The man who arranged the board and gave his name as Fethi said: “I’m here to support Julian Assange. We just wonder if the police will take him away.”

Fethi, who briefly went into the embassy before he was escorted out by officials, said he does not believe Mr Assange will be expelled.

“We’re going to be staying here until we see what’s going on,” he said.

A poster showing Julian Assange gagged by an American flag
A poster showing Julian Assange gagged by an American flag

A picture on the billboard showed Mr Assange gagged by an American flag with the message #FreeSpeech.

A member of staff inside the six-storey building declined to comment.

Mr Assange has been living inside the embassy for almost seven years.

A statement from Mr Assange’s legal team said: “Expelling Julian Assange would be illegal, violate international refugee law and be an attack on the UN which has repeatedly called for Assange to be able to walk free.

“It will be a sad day for democracy if the UK and Ecuadorean governments are willing to act as accomplices to the Trump administration’s determination to prosecute a publisher for publishing truthful information.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We do not comment on speculation. This is a matter for the Government of Ecuador.

“Julian Assange is in the embassy of his own choice and has always been free to leave.”