The Russian Foreign Ministry has said the manner in which the UK government executed the arrest of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange is demeaning to human dignity, and his long-running persecution is a blow to journalism.
Commenting on the arrest and detention of the publisher in the UK on Thursday, the ministry’s spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, has condemned the British authorities for manhandling the 47-year-old Assange as he was being hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
“The manner in which this operation was executed, leaves a total impression of a flagrant and unconcealed neglect for the human dignity of the arrestee,” she said, adding that Moscow hopes all of Assange’s rights would be respected.
Zakharova pointed out that before his eventual arrest by the UK police, Assange had to endure years of persecution while forced to live in “unbearable conditions” at the embassy.
Assange has been a de-facto prisoner at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, when he was granted asylum by then President Rafael Correa. Correa’s former ally and successor, Lenin Moreno, has distanced himself from the leftist cause and taken on a more pro-American stance, repeatedly calling Assange a “nuisance” that he would like to get rid of.
During Moreno’s time in office, Ecuador placed various restrictions on Assange, cutting off his Internet access and leaving him virtually incommunicado since March last year. Only his lawyers were allowed to visit him. In the meantime, it was reported that Assange’s health has been rapidly deteriorating since he was afraid of going to hospital out of fear of being arrested and extradited to the US.
“The persecution and harassment, the creation of inhuman conditions for his existence – this is sending freedom of speech and the right to spread information into oblivion. This is a blow to the rights of journalists. There can be no other assessment,” Zakharova said.
It has been speculated that the last drop that prompted Moreno to strip Assange of his protection and revoke his Ecuadorian citizenship was the release of documents that link Moreno to a corruption case in Ecuador. The revelations were attributed to WikiLeaks, although the whistleblowing site denied involvement.
Assange has been held in custody for skipping bail in 2012 over a rape charge in Sweden that has since been dropped as well as in connection with the computer-hacking conspiracy charge in the US. Washington has until June 12 to justify his extradition to the US, where it is feared he might face charges for much more serious crimes that can land him in jail for up to 45 years.
Zakharova echoed the statement by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who said earlier that Moscow hopes there would be no infringement on Assange’s rights.