A US journalist found herself locked in a cold, surveilled room within the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Monday, while a furious Julian Assange argued with embassy officials who had barred him from entering the room unless he submitted to a "full-body search and continuous surveillance," according to an account which has been confirmed by WikiLeaks and Assange's legal team.
The journalist, Gateway Pundit's Cassandra Fairbanks, has now visited Assange three times in the past year - reporting deteriorating conditions with each trip.
Ecuador granted the WikiLeaks founder asylum in their London embassy in 2012 on the grounds that his extradition to Sweden for a now-dropped sexual assault investigation would likely result in him being sent to the United States, where he could face the death penalty over publishing secret American documents. While Sweden dropped their investigation in 2017, the WikiLeaks founder still faces immediate arrest in the UK for breaching his bail in 2010.
From the start, Ecuador told both the U.K. and Swedish governments that it would immediately send Assange to Stockholm in exchange for a pledge from Sweden not to use that as a pretext to extradite him to the U.S., something the Swedish government had the power to do but refused. -The Intercept
Ecuador's former president, Rafael Correa, has denounced Assange's treatment under the care of the new Moreno administration as "torture," as his communications with the outside world have been virtually eliminated, and his voice effectively silenced from public discourse.
Assange's oppressive treatment, and that of his guests, was more evident than ever to Fairbanks:
The crackdown on visitors was felt before I even entered the embassy. It’s the third time I’ve visited in the past year, and each time the atmosphere seems progressively worse.
Just like my previous visit, since new rules for visitors were enacted, I couldn’t take my phone into the meeting without giving the Ecuadorian officials a swathe of data. If you want to take it in with you, they request its brand, model, serial number, IMEI number, and telephone number. I was also advised that Ecuador could not be trusted to hold my phone while I met with Assange, so I left it behind and walked to the embassy phoneless, several minutes early to make sure I was on time. -Gateway Pundit
Fairbanks detailed the tense standoff between Assange and embassy staff, after they insisted he submit to a full body scan and continuous surveillance during the meeting.
Via the Gateway Pundit:
After being searched, the staff directed me into the conference room, where two large visible cameras were pointed at the table. Those were there last time too. I knew the drill — or so I thought. They reminded me multiple times that my visit was only approved until 5 p.m. and that I would need to leave on the dot.
“Just doing my job,” the staff member told me.
A few moments later Assange walked by the door, but could not enter. Embassy staff demanded that he submit to a full-body scan with a metal detector before allowing him in the room. They have not done this with any other visitor in the nearly seven years that he has lived there, including during my previous visits.
“I don’t want to do the body scan. It is undignified and not appropriate,” I heard Assange say. “I am just trying to have a private meeting with a journalist.”
The door was slammed shut by someone from the embassy. I decided to sit and wait.
Not only would they not let Assange in to see me without a body-scan, they also forced his lawyer to be scanned before he could come in to update me on the situation.
After roughly 20 minutes, the lawyer came in and informed me that they were demanding to search Assange. Moreover, we would not be permitted to talk anywhere outside the highly-surveilled room where the Ecuadorians had confined me. Agreeing to these draconian terms would set a bad precedent — so he was unsure if the meeting would go ahead. After appraising me of the situation, he left the room.
A bit later, I decided to leave the room myself for an update from embassy staff. I quickly discovered that the door was locked from the outside. So I went to the second door — that was locked too. That was when I realized that Ecuadorian officials had deliberately imprisoned me in a room.
As this ominous realization dawned on me, I heard a dramatic confrontation unfolding outside.
“What are you frightened of in relation to me meeting with a journalist? What is the embassy afraid of?” Assange asks. I can’t hear the response.
Assange is arguing that as a political refugee the embassy has a duty to protect him — not to treat him as a prisoner.
“Is this a prison?” Assange asks.
“It’s not,” they reply. “You know it’s not.”
The visit to the publisher had, in fact, become eerily similar to visits I have made to inmates at federal penitentiaries in the US. It seemed our government was getting what they wanted from Ecuador, as a former senior State Department official told Buzzfeed in January, “as far as we’re concerned, he’s in jail.”
Assange, clearly agitated, demands to know “why are you surveilling me speaking to a US journalist? Do you think it’s unreasonable for me to expect privacy when I meet with a journalist? Why are you silent?”
The embassy staff member responded that he “can’t say anything.”
“Why can’t you say anything? Don’t you have an excuse? What is the basis? Why are you surveilling an American journalist? What reason should we tell her?” Assange asks.
The conversation becomes hard to hear, as I am still locked in the room.
Assange’s lawyer is also being searched again outside the room, though I can only hear bits and pieces of that conversation. He comes back in with a glass of water and tells me to hang tight. I feel like a prisoner receiving a visit. Finally, someone from the embassy comes in and tells me that I need to go to the lobby so that the ambassador could meet with Assange in the room. The room with the cameras and the bugs.
I see Assange in passing in the lobby and say hi, but it’s cut short as he is directed to the conference room.
Still phoneless, I glance at a clock and notice that it’s 4:19pm I was locked in the room for over an hour.
Sitting in the lobby I hear much of the conversation, so I begin to take notes.
“Is this a prison? This is how you treat a prisoner, not a political refugee!” Assange demands.
Ambassador Jaime Alberto Marchán retorts, saying it’s “for our protection, and to protect you!”
At this point, clearly frustrated, Assange asserts: “I am trying to have a private conversation with a journalist. I am also a journalist — and you’re stopping me from doing my work. How can I safely relay my mistreatment and the illegality going on here to this journalist while under surveillance?”
One of the issues, it seemed, is that Assange wanted to bring a small radio into the conference room to muffle our voices, so the microphones surveilling the room wouldn’t pick up what we were saying as easily. There also appears to be concern that he will share stories with other journalists now that they have him muzzled and gagged.
“You are preventing this journalist from meeting with me in any other room,” Assange says, but only part of the conversation is audible at this point as someone cleaning decided they needed to jingle keys and make a ton of noise for several minutes.
“You have been illegally surveilling me,” Assange sternly insists.
“I want you to shut up,” the ambassador says.
“I know you want me to shut up — the Ecuadorian president has already gagged me,” Assange fired back. “I am banned from producing journalism.”
Read the rest of the account here.