News is spreading that Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, may leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been staying for over two years. But quite when, or why, is less clear, and the main response to Assange's latest comments is one of confusion.
The New York Times reported that in a press conference given to around 20 journalists this morning, Assange said he would be leaving the embassy "soon."
But further elaboration from both the media and Assange have added more questions than clarification. Reports from the conference quoted Assange as saying that he was leaving, but it was "perhaps not for the reasons the Murdoch press and Sky News are saying."
With that, he seems to be referring to reports suggesting that Assange might pin his leaving the embassy on his allegedly deteriorating health. Before today's press conference, Sky News announced Assange's plans, attributing them to anonymous sources. Shortly after, Sky also said that "Mr Assange needs hospital treatment for heart and lung problems."
According to Sky News' Martin Brunt, "He's said to have a heart condition, a chronic lung complaint, bad eyesight, high blood-pressure, all as a result of … two years in the Ecuadorian embassy." A Daily Mail article went into detail about Assange's health, saying that he is "suffering from the potentially life-threatening heart condition arrhythmia and has a chronic lung complaint and dangerously high blood pressure."
Despite his rebuttals, Assange has so far declined to suggest why he might leave. The Guardian reported that WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson later said, "He is ready to leave at any moment as soon as the ridiculous siege outside will stop and he is offered safe passage," and that "his bag is packed."
With that in mind, perhaps Assange won't in fact be making a move anytime soon. The UK police has shown no indication that they have changed their position and are continuing to monitor the building. The BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman said that nothing has changed, and that Assange would be arrested and extradited if he does leave the embassy.
If Assange does leave the embassy, he is likely to be immediately arrested by police. He's still wanted for questioning in Sweden relating to the alleged sexual assault of two women. No formal charges have been made, however, and Assange and his supporters fear that after being taken to Sweden, he would then be extradited to the US in connection with an ongoing investigation against WikiLeaks.
When asked if the plan was for Assange to hand himself over to the police, Hrafnsson, the WikiLeaks spokesperson, replied "No."
So, despite the morning's events drawing a sizeable crowd of reporters and media outlets all around the world running the story, we don't really know anything more about what Assange's next move is. More than anything, Assange seems to be using the renewed media fanfare as an opportunity to remind readers of his perspective on the stalemate.
The Daily Mail, the most popular news website in the world, ran quotes from an interview with Assange yesterday. "Maybe it's time to think that WikiLeaks is not the main problem here for the West, maybe me and my publishing house are a lesser threat than say the Islamic State in Iraq or, closer to home, paedophiles in Westminster," he said.
"Why are they burning £240,000 a month on me which could be better spent on hospital beds, meals for the needy or teachers' salaries? The Metropolitan Police Service has now spent in excess of £7 million on guarding the embassy, which is a ridiculous waste of taxpayers' money," he added.
Meanwhile, the Guardian ran a comment piece penned by Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's foreign minister. It repeated calls for Assange to be able to leave the embassy freely, and that "Ecuador renews its commitment to the protection of Assange's human rights, freedom and life, and we affirm the validity of the asylum given to him two years ago."
What happens next is still as foggy as it was before Assange's briefing today. The only thing that's really certain is that we're once again all talking about him.