When Julian Assange, disguised as a motorcycle courier, first walked up the steps of Ecuador’s small embassy behind Harrods in central London and asked for asylum, few people – including, surely, Assange himself – could have imagined it would be almost seven years before he next exited the front door.
It was mid-June 2012, and as Britain expectantly awaited the opening of the Olympics just over a month later, the WikiLeaks publisher had exhausted every legal avenue in his attempts to avoid extradition to Sweden, where two women had made allegations of rape and sexual assault during a visit by Assange to Stockholm in 2010.
Assange, who had been briefly imprisoned and then on bail for more than a year, argued that Swedish prosecutors should interview him in London. But as well as resisting extradition to Sweden, he also feared being handed over to the US for potential prosecution over the so-called Cablegate documents (published in the Guardian and elsewhere) and other releases. The WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning was already in custody on espionage charges (she would be sentenced to 35 years in prison, later commuted by President Obama. Manning was reimprisoned last month).
Ecuador offered Assange almost his last option to avoid extradition, his last appeal having failed at the supreme court. The country’s then president, the leftwinger Rafael Correa, was sympathetic and Assange was granted asylum two months later.
It was never a very comfortable arrangement at the poky embassy, however. An office was repurposed as a bedroom and workspace, but he was forced, initially at least, to sleep on a mattress on the floor, sharing a bathroom and with access only to a tiny basic kitchen.