Assange got a kitten for company - now it's tweeting

By Max Bearak

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with a kitten in Ecuador's Embassy in London. Photo / AP
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with a kitten in Ecuador's Embassy in London. Photo / AP

It has been almost four years since Ecuador granted Julian Assange, the founder and editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, asylum in its embassy in London.

A police van is stationed outside the building, and he fears that he will be detained if he tries to leave, given that there is still a warrant out for his arrest.

He has Internet access, is allowed visitors and interacts with embassy staff, but much of his time is spent alone in quasi-solitary confinement.

But this week, Assange got a new friend to keep him company, and, apparently, stick up for him on social media.

The unnamed cat immediately got a Twitter handle (@EmbassyCat), and presumably "dictates" to Assange the pun-filled witticisms that it wants broadcast to the world. As a spectacle aimed at softening Assange's image, it simultaneously evokes "awws" - and pity.

If he leaves the embassy, Assange faces extradition to Sweden for questioning over multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault, though he has cited American threats to prosecute him for the publication of a three-quarters of a million classified and sensitive documents leaked by Private Chelsea Manning as his main reason for seeking asylum. There are still four more years until the statute of limitations are up on the charges Assange faces in Sweden.

Accounts of Assange's strange life within the confines of the embassy portray him as somewhat consumed by paranoia, which may be warranted.

There are reportedly eight police officers devoted to monitoring the building in case he attempts an escape - which costs the British public an astonishing £4.2 million in tax money annually.

The Huffington Post reported that Assange has asked journalists not to name his favourite sushi takeaway. "They might track the place down," he said. "They might put something in there that won't kill me, but make me very sick so I'll have to go to hospital."

Assange already spends a huge amount of his time tweeting. The Evening Standard noted that the WikiLeaks account posted 10,118 tweets in his first year in "captivity," and most are thought to have been written by him. He is also said to run 6km a day on a treadmill (enough to complete 28 marathons over the course of a year) and binge watches political thrillers, all while trying to keep WikiLeaks up and running.

He has likened his stay to "being in a space station". In his room, he has a light that mimics blue sky, and he barely ever goes outside. Last September, in an ironic twist of fate, Buzzfeed gained access to leaked internal reports from the Ecuadorean Embassy that shine a light on Assange, documenting numerous occasions in which he displayed erratic behaviour.

In one instance, "a security guard was on duty at around 8.30 pm on September 6, when Assange was in the embassy with two associates. Around this time, the guard discovered that Assange had made his way into the embassy's secure control room - a room strictly off-limits to him - and started tampering with the security equipment. This led to a scuffle between Assange and the guard that caused damage to the embassy's equipment."

In another case, a guard heard a loud boom, which turned out to be a large bookcase falling over in Assange's room. Assange then spent a "period of hours" locked in a bathroom down the hall. Assange apparently recorded his own tendency to "shout and talk incoherently" at night, which he attributed to night terrors.

The reports are assiduously kept by staff at the embassy. On Assange's mental health, they note, "it's clear that his situation could result in psychological harm because of the circumstances in which he finds himself, it's equally clear that there is no protocol that might help avoid or minimise this."

It now looks as if Assange and his new friend are resorting to drastic measures to get the British Government to realise their folly. @EmbassyCat took a pithy dig at Palmerston, the UK Foreign Office's cat (who goes by @DiploMog). Quoting Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part II, Assange belittles his prison guards and likens himself to a lion, and Wikileaks to a roar: "Small curs are not regarded when they grin; But great men tremble when the lion roars' @DiploMog pic.twitter.com/MxLgvZllE1"

Palmerston has yet to reply to the tweet. Don't feel bad about rolling your eyes.

- Washington Post

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