WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the U.S. President Barack Obama of “exploiting” the Arab Spring for political gains and mocked him for defending free speech in the Muslim world while “persecuting” his website for leaking American diplomatic cables.

In a video address made on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Assange said that judging from his own experience Mr. Obama had “done more to criminalise free speech than any other U.S. president”.

“It must have come as a surprise to the Egyptian teenagers who washed American teargas out of their eyes [during the Arab Spring] to hear that the U.S. supported change in the Middle East….It’s time for President Obama to keep his word ... and for the U.S. to cease its persecution of WikiLeaks,” he said.

Mr. Assange has been holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy since June after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault made by two women.

Combative speech

In a combative speech from inside the embassy, Mr. Assange claimed that WikiLeaks played a big role in triggering the uprisings in the Arab world by leaking American diplomatic cables. The American Government would be “audacious” to take credit for the “Arab Spring”, he said adding that it was “disrespect to the dead to claim that the United States supported the forces of change”.

Looking in good health despite his long confinement in Ecuador’s small mission, Mr. Assange told the audience: “I speak to you as a free man because despite having detained for 659 days without charge, I am free in the most basic sense, I am free to speak my mind.”

His remarks came amid reports that the Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino was due to meet the British Foreign Secretary William Hague in New York to press him to grant Mr. Assange safe passage to Ecuador which has granted him asylum.

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