The government of France said Friday that it may be open to granting political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was arrested at Ecuador’s embassy in London on U.S. hacking charges Thursday.
In an interview with local radio, France’s Secretary of State for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, said “we should listen to what [Assange] wants to do” as the E.U. has measures to protect whistleblowers, but noted, “we don’t offer asylum to someone who’s not asking for it.”
De Montchalin’s remarks come as Juan Branco, an attorney for Assange, is urging French President Emmanuel Macron to appeal to authorities to block the WikiLeaks founder’s extradited to the U.S. Branco suggested Macron should “take this man under our protection”, noting that the 47-year-old Australia native has a child in France. Macron has yet to comment publicly on the matter.
The Department of Justice charged Assange with taking part in a computer hacking conspiracy, accusing him of scheming with Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, to break a password for a classified government computer.
The single charge of computer intrusion conspiracy carries up to five years in prison, though the Justice Department can add additional charges depending on the evidence it gathers. Manning was ordered jailed last month for refusing to testify before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, suggesting that prosecutors are still at work.
The battle between Assange and the U.S. government was always going to be epic, involving concepts like free speech, journalists’ rights, national interests, even treason.
As Assange settled in to his first night in British custody, his allies and enemies alike are gearing up for what promises to be a long, dogged legal slog, not only over his possible extradition to the U.S. but over how courts should view his actions.
Assange has been fighting this battle for much of the past decade. The struggle has taken him through a “mansion arrest” in the English countryside; a dramatic escape into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London; a multimillion-pound U.K. police siege of the embassy that has strained government coffers; and even a bizarre attempt to turn him into a Moscow-based diplomat.
Assange’s lawyer has previously said he planned to fight any U.S. charges against him. Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 after he was released on bail in Britain while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped. British police said Assange had been arrested Thursday for breaching his bail conditions and in relation to the U.S. arrest request.