Julian Assange occupies one room, but sleeps in a renovated bathroom in the Embassy of Ecuador in London.
Inviting WHO into his embassy room, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks talks about his daily routine, his fears of being forced outside, his political ambitions and the difficulties of living in asylum.
“I couldn’t sleep because of the Harrods loading bay and the cops always doing shift changes outside,” says Assange, 42. “And the quietest room is the women’s bathroom, the only room that’s easy to sleep in. So I thought I’d try and somehow get hold of it and renovate it. Eventually, somewhat reluctantly, the staff relented. They ripped out the toilet. They’ve been very generous.”
Since June 19 last year, Assange has been living in exile at the Ecuadorian Embassy, avoiding an extradition order to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over two alleged sexual assaults.
But Assange, who vehemently denies the accusations, says, “I didn’t come here because of Sweden,” telling WHO he fears only the threat of eventual extradition to the US, where he faces potential espionage charges over his whistleblowing website’s leaking of classified material.
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And so, relying on family, friends, colleagues and embassy staff for his daily and work needs, and using a sunlamp to keep his vitamin D levels up, Assange has carved out a working life in his embassy niche.
“I miss all the outside world, obviously,” says Assange, who tells WHO he is constantly shifting rooms in the embassy, which occupies a single floor of the building: “We’ve had this room for about a week and we don’t draw attention to which rooms. That’s quite dangerous.”
He is guarded about where his meals come from, too. When an embassy staffer brings him a sushi lunch, Assange asks that the name of the restaurant not be published.
“They might track the place down,” says Assange, who was born in Townsville, Queensland.
“They might put something in there that won’t kill me, but make me very sick so I’ll have to go to hospital.”
He believes his family are potential targets, too. “American right-wingers put out a call that the way to get me was to ‘take out’ my eldest son,” says Assange. “My son has had to move, change all his identities. My mother has had to move, too. There are many death threats made to the lawyers.”
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He finds comfort through his support base. Visitors to his embassy home have included Lady Gaga, actor John Cusack, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, members of Pussy Riot and Yoko Ono, who has visited “several times,” says Assange. “I’m a big admirer.”
Australian friends try to quell the homesickness with gifts—“flannel shirts, Tim Tams, Vegemite, gum leaves”—and at 4 PM each day, a small group including former refugees and soldiers hold a vigil for Assange outside the embassy.
“They try and keep my spirits up,” he says. “And they do.”
Assange is now looking to extend his influence as he makes a bid for a Senate seat in this year's federal election. Wikileaks "has exposed billions of dollars worth of corruptions, so it would be good to take that skill-set to Canberra."
For the full interview and photos inside the embassy, pick up this week's WHO, on sale now!