Update, 6:50 p.m.: The Ecuadorean government has put out a statement saying that it cut off Julian Assange’s internet access as a result of WikiLeaks’ interference in the U.S. presidential election:
You know the old saying: Guests, like fish, start to smell after about four years. It’s starting to look as if the government of Ecuador is starting to tire, after four years, of hosting Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London.
Wikileaks says that the embassy cut off Assange’s access to the internet over the weekend, forcing the group to switch to a contingency plan to continue releasing documents, including more sets of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton adviser John Podesta on Monday and Tuesday. The organization accused Secretary of State John Kerry of pressuring Ecuador to prevent Assange from leaking more emails during ongoing peace negotiations between Colombia and the FARC. The State Department denied it had anything to do with it.
The State Department’s denials seem credible, if only because I imagine the State Department is smart enough to realize that it can’t shut down Wikileaks just by shutting off Assange’s internet access.
So what is going on here? Ecuador’s foreign minister declined to comment on Assange’s status when asked by the AP, but his office later put out a brief statement saying that it “reaffirms the validity of the asylum granted four years ago to Julian Assange.” It doesn’t say anything about his internet access.
Let’s discount, for the moment, the rumors floating around that Assange has been killed, either by Pamela Anderson’s poisoned sandwich or some other method. Could Ecuador’s left-wing government be frustrated with Wikileaks’ unlikely transformation into a probably Kremlin-abetted ally of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? The New York Times notes that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa recently told RT that he would vote for Clinton, though he threw in a #slatepitch that Trump might be better for Latin America because his “primitive policies,” like those of George W. Bush, would encourage the election of “progressive governments” in the region.
Correa’s government probably didn’t anticipate that it would be stuck with Assange for this long in 2012, when it granted him asylum after he lost an appeal in a British court to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over 2012 rape allegations. Assange denies the rape accusations and says he fears that he could be extradited to the U.S., where a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks is ongoing. Swedish prosecutors dropped investigations into three of the four lesser allegations against Assange last year after the statute of limitations ran out, but the 10-year limit of the rape allegation won’t run out until 2020.
So, he’s been stuck in the embassy, where he lives in a 4.6-by-4–meter room with a treadmill, shower, microwave, and sunlamp. He says he eats lunches with the embassy staff and gets along well with them, though documents published by BuzzFeed last year showed that security in the embassy is keeping minute-by-minute records of his activities and that he got into a scuffle with a guard in 2012. The reports also suggested that Assange’s attitude could be a source of stress for the staff, “mainly women,” and noted a need for the embassy to “control access to alcohol.”
In a recent video press conference announcing the upcoming election leaks, Assange replied “pale” when asked how he felt after four years in the embassy, joking that he would be a good candidate for medical study since he was otherwise healthy but got almost no sunlight. According to most accounts, he spends most of his time on his computer, so if the Ecuadoreans really cut off his internet access—for whatever reason—that would be a pretty serious sign that they want him out.