Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was hectored by festival-goers today as he ducked a tough question about Private Bradley Manning.
The American soldier, currently jailed by the US authorities, is accused of passing on highly sensitive material to the internet activist in 2009.
His arrest came after he was accused of transferring classified data onto his own personal computer and passing it on to Wikileaks.
He is believed to have passed on material including 250,000 US diplomatic cables and footage of a July 2007 Baghdad airstrike, later published by Wikileaks.
Private Manning was initially held at the maximum security military prison of Quantico in Virginia.
Despite since being transferred to what has been described as “more humane” surroundings he faces spending the rest of his life in jail.
During an appearance at the Hay Festival of Literature in mid Wales, Assange was asked today if his own brief spell in prison had made him better appreciate Private Manning’s plight.
“Private Bradley Manning might spend the rest of his life in jail,” a member of the audience told him.
When Assange failed to give an adequate answer he was hectored with one audience member shouting “answer the question”.
In his answer he spoke vaguely of “other” people in a similar situation whose names were not even known.
He also intimated that activist interest in the conditions in which Manning was being held had led to the improvements he now enjoys.
Assange also painted a picture of conditions in which he was held in prison in the UK for 10 days.
The Wikileaks editor-in-chief himself appeared unruffled by the briefly embarrassing episode and the interview quickly passed on.
“When I was in solitary confinement, in quite severe conditions, I was in the bottom of Wandsworth Prison in the isolation unit with a camera watching me at all times,” Assange told the audience.
“That is very similar conditions to those of Bradley Manning. Now he is allowed out three hours a day.”
He said that Private Manning had also been in prison in Kuwait but that few people had been aware of it.
“Over the past few months a lot of people have been concerned about Bradley Manning’s condition and have been able to get information out which has had an effect,” he added.
“He has been transferred from Quantico where he should never have been in the first place.”