Assange praises accused whistleblower

By Raphael Satter

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange emerged for a rare public address yesterday, praising jailed United States soldier Bradley Manning in an address delivered from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Addressing supporters on a cold and wet English evening, the 41-year-old Australian looked fit and healthy despite half a year spent trapped inside the small apartment he shares with Ecuador's diplomatic staff.

He gave no hint that he would end the standoff, which has seen him spend six months as a fugitive from European justice, saying he was holed up at the embassy for fear of the US investigation into his activities.

"While this immoral investigation continues, and while the Australian Government will not defend the journalism and publishing of WikiLeaks, I must remain here," he said.

While the US Justice Department has launched an investigation into WikiLeaks' spectacular disclosures of US secrets, Assange is wanted by police over allegations of sexual assault stemming from a trip to Sweden in mid-2010.

Many WikiLeaks supporters have suggested the allegations are a ploy to extradite Assange, first to Sweden and then to the US. The Swedish Government and Assange's alleged victims say they are simply seeking justice.

Assange's address name-checked a series of jailed figures, including Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and alleged Anonymous hacker Jeremy Hammond. But the biggest cheers came when he praised Manning, the alleged source of WikiLeaks' most earth-shaking revelations.

Assange said the 25-year-old "has maintained his dignity after spending more than 10 per cent of his life in jail, some of that time in a cage, naked and without his glasses".

Manning, who was arrested in 2010, faces trial on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy.

Testimony in pre-trial hearings has recently focused on the conditions under which he was detained including times at which he was forced to strip naked and at least one incident in which he says he was made to stand at attention while nude.

- AP

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