The controversial advocate for freedom of information, Julian Assange, has been accused of skateboarding while confined inside a South American diplomatic mission in the United Kingdom, where he had been granted asylum for the past seven years.
The Ecuadorian Embassy in London released a YouTube video of the WikiLeaks founder on April 14, claiming that it proves that he was skateboarding while staying as a guest of the embassy in Knightsbridge.
The footage published by Spanish newspaper El Pais appears to show Assange standing near the door to the corridor and making several attempts to start rolling on a skateboard before stumbling off. Throughout the process, he speaks with a woman identified as his adviser, Stella Morris, who can be seen sitting in an armchair, seemingly amused as she watches Assange’s failed attempts.
Another part of the video shows Assange with about four visitors in the room on a weekend. An argument appears to start between Assange and a security guard who opens the door and motions for the guests to leave. Nobody moves and eventually, another man enters, who is identified to be Ambassador Carlos Abad Ortiz. He calms everyone down before the group of visitors finally leaves.
Since Assange was unable to leave the embassy without being arrested by London police, he received hundreds of requests to visit him at the embassy. Each visit would be processed two days in advance and Ortiz would have to approve each time. Some high-profile guests included pop star Lady Gaga, actor John Cusack, Japanese artist Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon, and designer Vivienne Westwood who would often bring Assange something to eat. Assange is reportedly fond of eating meat and drinking red wine.
However, the staff at the embassy would complain that the regular flow of visitors disturbed their daily operations.
“The officials and the diplomatic team were tired of the feature articles and interviews, of Assange and his people using the meeting rooms,” one guard told El Pais.
The high volume of visitors also created constant security concerns, the most noteworthy being a birthday visit by a drag queen who wore a very elaborate outfit that could have easily concealed a dangerous item that was prohibited in the building. Assange also would hold big celebrations to honor the milestones of WikiLeaks or simply kick a ball around the corridor on his own.
The guards were frustrated by what they described to be eccentric behavior on Assange’s part. Namely, he would be seen giving television interviews in his underwear, dressed only from the waist up.
He was also accused of leaving the bathroom dirty after using it, which was reported to then-Ambassador Juan Falconi. Embassy staff were also unhappy about Assange using an electric cooker to make stews in his small kitchen that was not fitted with a smoke extractor, the newspaper reported.
The security guards who protected Assange were contracted former military members. They were paid 2,000 euros ($2,260) a month, plus expenses, by defense and private security company UC Global, which began work at the embassy shortly after Assange claimed diplomatic asylum back in 2012. The business is owned by marine David Morales. It would employ guards for periods of weeks up to several years.
The embassy also invested heavily in surveillance technology to protect Assange. An investigation by The Guardian estimated that the Ecuadorian government spent $5 million on protecting and monitoring Assange for seven years.
“The embassy was filled with cameras, both inside and out,” said Txema Guijarro, a Spanish politician who at the time was an advisor for the Ecuadorian government. “Assange was always obsessed with the idea that these images could be hacked and that, as such, we were doing the counterintelligence work for the British ourselves.”
A filing room was converted into a mini command center fitted with monitors, a video recorder, and an independent power supply system. The equipment was so advanced it would allow audiovisual signals to be seen in real time from the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, the person in charge revealed.
On April 11, Assange finally left the embassy, carried by three police officers. He had taken refuge in the 300-square-meter (3,229 square foot) apartment on June 19, 2012, after losing a legal appeal to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual abuse. Two months later, Assange was granted indefinite asylum and then Ecuadorian nationality in January 2018.
However, living in confinement for so many years took a toll on Assange’s mental health.
“The situation that Assange is in isn’t easy because of his emotional state. Throughout the length of his stay, he has gone through different stages in which he was more or less in agreement with the [security and surveillance] procedures but that is an area that does not correspond to him but rather the client,” Morales said, according to El Pais.
Assange is also believed to have experienced challenges in walking and with his vision due to being confined to the building. His doctor recommended him to look into the distance and the embassy gave him another room where he could see the street, which he was dragged onto after spending 2,494 days in the embassy.