Protesters rallied outside Ecuador’s embassy in London on Monday on the day that documents and electronic equipment belonging to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were expected to be seized for handover to US authorities.
“Free speech” and “Free Assange”, read some of the signs held up by a small group of campaigners outside the embassy where Assange was holed up for seven years before police arrested him last month after Ecuador revoked his asylum.
Assange is currently serving out a 50-week prison sentence in Britain for breaking his bail conditions when he first fled to the embassy in 2012.
He is also facing a US extradition request on computer hacking charges. And Sweden announced Monday that it has issued a formal request to hold Assange on suspicion of rape, which could lead to an extradition request from that country too.
The US case involves WikiLeaks publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents exposing American military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries.
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Jose Valencia earlier this month confirmed that the belongings that Assange had to leave behind would be seized and Ecuadorian prosecutors would then decide what material to hand over to US investigators.
Valencia defended the handover, saying: “This is derived from a very clear order from a competent judicial authority.”
One of the protesters, Venezuelan journalist Carolina Graterol, 52, said the handover constituted a violation of “privacy and free speech”.
“They are breaking all the laws that protect us as journalists,” she said.
According to WikiLeaks, the seized material includes two of Assange’s manuscripts, as well as his legal papers, medical records and electronic equipment.
“The seizure of his belongings violates laws that protect medical and legal confidentiality and press protections,” the website said in a statement.
WikiLeaks said it believed the chain of custody for the property “has already been broken”.
Fidel Narvaez, a former consul of Ecuador to London, who was also protesting outside the embassy on Monday, warned that there could be “tampering” with evidence.