"I get death threats constantly. So do my lawyer and my children"
WikiLeaks founder talks exclusively to EL PAÍS about his time prison and the future he faces out in the open
Julian Assange has a disturbing anecdote from the time he spent in Wandsworth prison. One day, as he was tucking into a lunchtime dish of rice and beans, he noticed that something snapped in his mouth. A metallic object he had chewed on cracked one of his teeth in two. "I don't know if it had been placed there deliberately or if it was a simple accident," he says.
On returning to his solitary-confinement cell he wrapped the tooth in a white piece of paper. He was then let out for an hour. On his return the tooth had disappeared. "It will soon be up for sale on eBay," the Australian jokes, speaking from the kitchen of the mansion owned by Vaughan Smith, his protector on British soil, who has offered Assange a home where he can be located during his time on bail.
-And why do you think it was stolen?
-I suppose because they didn't want there to be any evidence that such a thing could have happened.
This is the first interview Assange has given since he left prison. It is the first time that two journalists have entered Smith's luxurious mansion, a Georgian-style building surrounded by ponds and a thick covering of snow. Assange, 39, looks fine. He is drinking tea and talking, as always, in a murmur.But the website editor undergoes a transformation when the tape recorder is switched on. He breathes in and adopts his role, that of a man who is fighting for freedom of expression; of the founder of WikiLeaks, a website that in recent weeks has laid bare the international diplomacy of the United States; of a man pursued by the Swedish justice system in connection with alleged rape offenses; of a man persecuted by an invisible hand, controlled by someone with an American accent.
-Let's start with a very basic question. How do you feel these days?
-It's wonderful to have left solitary confinement. I feel very determined. I see that we have received support from all over the world, especially in South America and Australia and it feels like everyone, everywhere is on our side. But the closer someone is to power, the less they are willing to support us, probably because they have more to lose.
-There is Brazil's outgoing President Lula, who has expressed support.
-He's a special case because he has retired, and that allows him to be more direct than he would have been otherwise. He doesn't have to pay homage to the US anymore.
-Last Thursday on the steps of the court after being released, you spoke about...
-It was all so fast... I could have stayed there talking for an hour, but the police were worried that I could be assassinated, or something like that.
-Several figures from the American political sphere have said publicly that you should be dealt with. Have you received other threats?
-I get death threats constantly. My lawyer gets them, my children get them...
-Where are they coming from?
-Most seem to come from militants of the US armed forces.
Speaking about his time in the London prison, he explains that he was transferred three times, and that each cell he was in was completely closed- this is not the case for other inmates. After being in a holding cell for the newly arrested, he was taken to Wandsworth's Onslaw Centre, a wing that holds 350 prisoners- those who "run the risk of physical danger from other prisoners or the guards," due to their having committed sexual crimes or having harmed children. "I couldn't leave my cell but a lot of inmates slipped things under my door. There was a lot of curiosity."
-Yes. The prisoners in Wandsworth are all waiting to be extradited. They passed me US extradition papers. But it was decided that it was still too dangerous for me to stay in Onslaw.
-Because of the danger that someone might attack or kill me. So they moved me to the isolation wing, euphemistically named the Care and Separation Unit... where they send the most unruly prisoners.
Assange says that the prison system seemed "Soviet" in its bureaucratized ways. To make a phone call, for example, proceedings are required that can drag on for days. Excluding conversations with his lawyers, he only managed to make four personal calls during his time inside. But he got the impression that most of the prison workers were on his side, albeit secretly. He received one note from an officer that read: "I only have two heroes in this world: Martin Luther King and you."
On Saturday The Guardian printed a story reconstructing the days that Assange spent in Stockholm last August, when the complaints against him were made. Having had access to police material held in Stockholm, the British newspaper printed intimate details about the sexual relations between Assange and two women identified as Miss A and Miss W. Of the article, Assange says that "as always, almost nothing is what it seems," before describing it as the latest act in a "smear campaign" against him. The former hacker criticizes the newspaper for printing only part of the story, ignoring some of the information he says is included in the case files. Assange claims that one of the two women was "bamboozled" into giving a statement by the police.
He says that he has "never had non-consensual sexual relations with anyone," and criticizes the way the details of the accusations have slowly emerged into the public domain without him or anyone else being given proper access to the files. "I have yet to receive any documents in English, which is a violation of the European Human Rights Convention."
-So who is behind this smear campaign?
-I don't mean to say that there is a chain of command from Hillary Clinton right down to a journalist who works for The Guardian. That would be ridiculous; things don't work like that in the real world, which is much more interesting and subtle. Power creates an atmosphere in which individuals practically feed off what they think power wants. In each group or organization there might be direct instructions, but each individual or group acts in a way that it feels maximizes its own interests. Careerism, fame, creating and maintaining alliances, doing favors, favors to friends, relatives, between members of the same party... doing things out of fear, without even being asked to do them... all these things create an atmosphere.
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