WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said he would “soon” leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after being holed up at the mission for nearly two years, amid reports that he has developed life-threatening ailments that require hospitalisation.
The 49-year-old Australian national, who is reportedly battling heart defect and chronic lung condition, refused to elaborate on the timeframe as he addressed journalists alongside Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino at the embassy in Knightsbridge, central London.
Widespread reports have suggested that the anti-secrecy campaigner needs hospital treatment for the health problems.
“There has been two years of great uncertainty and a lack of legal protection. This situation must come to an end. Two years is simply too long...We continue to offer him our protection,” said Patino.
“It is time to free Julian Assange. It is time for his human rights to finally be respected,” he added.
Patino would meet with British foreign secretary Philip Hammond in the next few weeks to discuss ways to resolve the situation.
Assange, whose website WikiLeaks published classified US military and diplomatic documents embarrassing the US government, has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy building, since being granted diplomatic asylum by the Latin American nation in August 2012.
He is under continuance surveillance and will be arrested if he leaves the building. Scotland Yard officers have been stationed outside the building round-the-clock for two years now.
Assange had initially anticipated a diplomatic solution to his problems would be reached within a couple of months. But that did not happen.
The whistleblower has been investigated by US authorities since WikiLeaks published leaked military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
He also faces an arrest warrant in Sweden over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women. He denies the allegations.
Australia-born Assange fears that from Sweden he will be extradited to the US, where he could face 35 years in prison for publishing classified documents related to the Pentagon's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan on WikiLeaks.
Assange said WikiLeaks’ spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson had “said that he can confirm I am leaving the embassy soon”.
Hrafnsson later told journalists, Assange would only be able to leave when the UK government “calls off the siege”.
“The plan is for him to leave as soon as the UK government decides to honour its obligations in relation to international agreements and calls off the siege outside – it’s as simple as that,” the spokesperson said.
The Metropolitan Police has estimated the total cost of policing the embassy since June 2012 at £6.4 million (Rs 65 crore), including £1.1 million (Rs 11crore) for police overtime.
Image: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange