(LONDON) — After seven years within the confines of the Ecuador Embassy in London, the infamous WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 47, was dragged away by police officers looking haggard, tired and clearly aged since he sought asylum there in 2012 on Thursday.
When Assange was interviewed via Skype by the Daily Telegraph newspaper a year into his confinement, the Australian man painted a fairly rosy picture of life inside the embassy.
Although his room was small — an office converted into a bedroom — Assange said staff members were “like family” despite the “difficult” situation. He had access to the internet, a treadmill and a small kitchen. He was also granted Ecuadorian citizenship.
“We have lunch together, celebrate people”s birthdays and other details I don’t want to go into because of the security situation,” he told the newspaper. Assange even claimed to have visits from celebrity supporters such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Cusack and Yoko Ono, despite it being “difficult to wake up … and see the same walls” every day.
But something soured. When the president of Ecuador announced Thursday he was withdrawing Assange’s asylum status and stripping him of Ecuadorian citizenship, he said in a statement it was not just for “repeated violations to international conventions,” but, crucially, for violations of “daily-life protocols.”
In a sovereign decision Ecuador withdrew the asylum status to Julian Assange after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols. #EcuadorSoberano pic.twitter.com/pZsDsYNI0B
— Lenín Moreno (@Lenin) April 11, 2019
President Lenin Moreno described Assange’s behavior as “discourteous and aggressive” while inside the embassy. Moreno also claimed, contrary to the terms of his confinement, Assange was still playing an active role in WikiLeaks.
“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behavior of Mr. Assange,” Moreno said. “He installed electronic and distortion equipment not allowed… He has confronted and mistreated guards.”
On Thursday, Ecuador’s interior minister said at a press conference in Quito Assange had apparently smeared feces on the walls and engaged in other behavior she described as below common decency.
He reportedly took over the women’s bathroom, per the International Business Times, which quoted sources last January saying Assange had poor hygiene. “It seems he doesn’t wash properly,” one source told the publication.
A friend and former colleague was quoted saying that “unless the people around him force him into the shower, he might not change his clothes for days.”
And another friend said, “Julian ate everything with his hands and he always wiped his fingers on his pants. I have never seen pants as greasy as his in my whole life.”
It’s not exactly a new, poison pen description of Assange. In 2011, the former executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, wrote about the paper’s first collaboration with Assange and WikiLeaks, including his first meeting with the whistleblower.
“He was alert but disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles,” Keller wrote. “He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.”
While the international pressure to arrest Assange must have been enormous, Assange’s behavior apparently didn’t win over many friends within the embassy. Now, he is no longer their concern. Assange remains in police custody and will next appear in a U.S. court via video-link May 2.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.