France rejects WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s ‘protection’ request

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NEW: WikiLeaks insists French presidency now says Julian Assange should apply for asylum

Assange letter in Le Monde says his life is at risk because of his work exposing wrongdoing

French presidency: "Mr. Assange is not in a situation of immediate danger"

Paris CNN  — 

France has rejected a request from Julian Assange for “protection” after the controversial WikiLeaks founder published an open letter in national newspaper Le Monde on Friday.

Assange has been holed up in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy for more than two years to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about 2010 allegations that he raped one woman and sexually molested another.

In the letter in Le Monde, addressed to President François Hollande and the French people, Assange said his life was in danger because of his efforts to expose wrongdoing and appealed to France to offer him “the necessary protection against, and only against, the political persecutions I’m suffering today.”

“As a European Union member state, as a country committed throughout all its history to the fight for the values that I have made my own, as the fifth world power, as a country that has marked my life and which houses part of it, France can act if it wishes to do so,” he said.

But the French presidency rejected his arguments.

“France has received the letter from Mr. Assange,” it said in a statement. “A closer examination shows that in light of the legal context and the material situation of Mr. Assange, France cannot act on its request.

“Mr. Assange is not in a situation of immediate danger. He is also under a European arrest warrant.”

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said last week that she “wouldn’t be surprised” if France decided to offer asylum to both Assange and U.S. leaker Edward Snowden.

But in an article on its website, Le Monde said Assange was careful to avoid formally requesting asylum in his letter because it is a long and legally complex process. Instead, Le Monde suggests Assange is requesting diplomatic support.

On its Twitter feed, WikiLeaks insisted that Assange “has not submitted an asylum application to France” despite some media reports to the contrary.

But within hours, it claimed that the presidency had backtracked on its previous position and now said Assange “should submit an asylum request,” putting the ball back in WikiLeaks’ court.

In his lengthy letter, Assange also talked about the privations he suffers living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in a space measuring less than 60 square feet. He added that he has a child by a French mother, whose existence he has kept secret until now to protect them, and that he has not been able to see either for five years.

“In welcoming me, France would achieve a humanitarian but also probably symbolic gesture, sending encouragement to all the journalists and whistleblowers who, across the world, risk their lives on a daily basis in order to allow their fellow citizens to move another step closer to the truth,” he said.

Assange, an Australian national, has not been charged in the Swedish case and denies the allegations against him.

He has said he fears Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where he could face the death penalty if he is charged and convicted of publishing government secrets through WikiLeaks.

Snowden, a former U.S. government contractor, has remained in Russia since exposing widespread federal surveillance programs.

CNN’s Sandrine Amiel reported from Paris, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported from London.