Julian Assange: Ecuador grants Wikileaks founder asylum

 
Julian Assange Julian Assange's Wikileaks website published leaked diplomatic cables

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Ecuador has granted asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange two months after he took refuge in its London embassy while fighting extradition from the UK.

It said his human rights might be violated if he is sent to Sweden to be questioned over sex assault claims.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the country and the move was also criticised by Stockholm.

Ecuador said it would seek to negotiate arrangements for Mr Assange to leave.

"We don't think it is reasonable that, after a sovereign government has made the decision of granting political asylum, a citizen is forced to live in an embassy for a long period," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said.

Mr Assange took refuge at the embassy in June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over assault and rape claims, which he denies.

Mr Patino had accused the UK of making an "open threat" to enter its embassy to arrest Mr Assange, an Australian national.

Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino: "We believe that his fears are legitimate"

Mr Assange said being granted political asylum by Ecuador was a "significant victory" and thanked staff in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

However, as the Foreign Office insisted the decision would not affect the UK's legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden, Mr Assange warned: "Things will get more stressful now."

"It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation," said Mr Assange, who watched the announcement with embassy staff in a live link to a press conference in Quito.

"While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented US investigation against Wikileaks must be stopped.

Political asylum is not available to anyone facing a serious non-political crime - such as the allegations levelled against Mr Assange.

But does his new status mean he can now leave his Swedish problems behind? No. Asylum does not equal immunity from prosecution - and Julian Assange needs safe passage through UK territory that he won't get.

Mr Assange knows he can't leave without risking arrest by officers waiting outside. The police can't enter the embassy unless the government revokes its status.

Embassy vehicles are protected by law from police searches - but how could he get into an Ecuadorean car without being apprehended? And what happens after he's in the car? At some point he will have to get out again. Stranger things have happened.

In 1984 there was an attempt to smuggle a Nigerian man from the UK in a so-called "diplomatic bag" protected from inspection. The bag was in fact a large crate - and customs officers successfully intercepted it at the airport.

"While today much of the focus will be on the decision of the Ecuadorean government, it is just as important that we remember Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for over 800 days," he said, referring to the former US soldier accused of leaking government material to Wikileaks.

Mr Assange is expected to make a statement in front of the embassy on Sunday at 14:00 BST, according to the Wikileaks Twitter feed.

'Legal obligation'

Announcing Ecuador's decision, Mr Patino launched a strong attack on the UK for what he said was an "explicit type of blackmail".

The UK Foreign Office had warned, in a note, that it could lift the embassy's diplomatic status to fulfil a "legal obligation" to extradite the 41-year-old by using the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.

That allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of an embassy on UK soil, which would potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Mr Assange for breaching the terms of his bail.

Mr Hague said it was a "matter of regret" that the Ecuadorean government decided to grant Mr Assange political asylum but warned that it "does not change the fundamentals" of the case.

He also warned that it could drag on for some "considerable" time.

"We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so," he said.

Scuffles broke out outside the Ecuadorean embassy

Mr Hague said there was "no threat" to storm the embassy.

"We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law," he said.

Mr Patino said Ecuador believed Mr Assange's fears of political persecution were "legitimate" and said his country was being loyal to its tradition of protecting those who were vulnerable.

He later told BBC Mundo that conditions were attached to the asylum.

"We placed the same type of conditions that are the norm in international relations, such as him [Mr Assange] not making political statements that could affect our relations with friendly countries."

The Foreign Office said it was "disappointed" by the Ecuador statement and said it remained committed to reaching a "negotiated solution" that would allow it to carry out its "obligations under the Extradition Act". This means Mr Assange's arrest would still be sought if he left the embassy.

Sweden summons ambassador

The Swedish government reacted angrily to Mr Patino's suggestion that Mr Assange would not be treated fairly by its justice system, summoning Ecuador's ambassador to explain.

At the scene

Julian Assange's small, but vocal, band of supporters chanted loudly and marched along the street in front of the Ecuadorean Embassy when the news filtered through from Quito.

They, like the man they have come here to support, regard Ecuador's decision as a significant victory against the UK, US and Sweden, all of which they claim are trying to silence Mr Assange.

But Mr Assange's supporters also know there's little chance of the man they regard as a hero of free speech making a public appearance on the pavement opposite the world-famous green awnings of the Harrods department store.

He would very likely be arrested if he stepped outside the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he is - for the moment at least - still protected by the diplomatic immunity granted to foreign government buildings on UK soil.

Mr Assange is locked in a diplomatic and political stalemate. Ecuador may have granted him asylum, but he still has nowhere to go.

"The accusations... are serious, and it is unacceptable that Ecuador would want to halt the Swedish judicial process and European judicial co-operation," said Anders Joerle, spokesman for the Swedish foreign ministry.

The Organisation of American States called a special meeting at its Washington headquarters on Thursday to discuss the Ecuador-UK relationship, specifically Ecuador's diplomatic premises in the UK.

The Union of South American Nations, meanwhile, has convened an "extraordinary meeting" in Ecuador on Sunday to consider "the situation raised at the embassy".

Mr Assange entered the embassy after the UK's Supreme Court dismissed his bid to reopen his appeal against extradition and gave him a two-week grace period before extradition proceedings could start.

It was during that fortnight, while on bail, that he sought refuge.

A subsequent offer by Ecuador to allow Swedish investigators to interview Mr Assange inside the embassy was rejected.

The Wikileaks website Mr Assange founded published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments, particularly that of the US, in 2010.

Mr Assange says he fears that if extradited to Sweden, he will then be passed on to the American authorities.

In 2010, two female Wikileaks supporters accused Mr Assange of committing sexual offences against them while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture.

Mr Assange claims the sex was consensual and the allegations are politically motivated.

 

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  • Comment number 1118.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1117.

    1018. "Whatever Mr Assange has (or has not done) in the US is irrelevant to the fact that he is wanted in Sweden on serious charges. He should go there to face them. If this requires an absolute assurance that he will not be extradited to the US, so be it."

    He asked for such assurance. It was denied. He asked to be interviewed at the Embassy. This too was denied. Ask yourself: would YOU go?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1116.

    "The fact is he has been through the judicial process here and the courts have said he has a case to answer."

    Most people here totally disagree with you! Why didn't the Swedish police interview him here? Or at the Ecuadorian Embassy? If I were you I would scrutinise the recent extraditions to the US and you will find that some have been grotesquely unfair. I support Ecuador's decision!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1115.

    The laws of the USA, Sweden and England/UK & their international relevance are not symmetrical.

    Assange is right to be concerned about possible extradition to the USA through a contrived process involving law officers & no court in Sweden.

    The law of consent must be respected by Assange & the legal authorities in Sweden. I suspect that Ecuador government knows more than us about this business.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1114.

    There is obviously a very large American rodent in the background of all this and as usual the British authorities have been led by the nose by the USA. The best thing would be to (with covert British conivance) to helicopter him from the embassy to an Ecuadorean ship outside the 12 mile limit and that is that. Gets the Brits who have got themselves into this mess off the hook.

  • Comment number 1113.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1112.

    "1055.Mike

    I'm seeing a lot of talk being thrown about regarding Diplomatic Bags, Immunity et al. Most of it is complete rubbish, and backed only by Hollywood ideals."

    Surely they could just make him a Citizen and accredit him as a diplomat? (I don't know if that would work, but I'm sure I recall Middle-Eastern countries doing much the same a while back).

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1111.

    I'm off.....It's clear the US & UK gov.'s are on these pages!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1110.

    It's so great that those who have the right to freedom of speech are allowed to speak against someone who dared to speak freely.
    The facts speak for themselves, those who don't explore the history of Jullian Assange are so quick to judge. Those people who do, know that his organization is necessary to expose evidence of the conspiracies which take away human rights and human life.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1109.

    I'm not really bothered about Assange. That situation will work itself out one way or another. I'm more concerned about the embarrassing, inept way it's been handled by our own side. It seems to have been a week for shockingly naive, ill-considered decisions and announcements.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1108.

    Maybe it's time we removed the Great from Great Britain. What is so Great about our actions today? Mr Assange has a case to answer in Sweden but why can't they guarantee him no extradition to the US? That's because he isn't really going to answer that charge is he? We should be standing up for people like this not helping their oppressors. WELL DONE ECUADOR! You have my respect!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1107.

    I agree with Hyperion77 - being an "activist" doesn't automatically make this guy innocent of what he's accused of. He should still man up and be extradited to Sweden,and then if cleared of the charges there, assured safe return to Ecuador. If he's brave enough to put lives at risk by releasing those documents he's brave enough to be extradited.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1106.

    1028.Richard
    for a foreighn embassy to even look into this, there would need to be serious doubt as to the legitimacy fo the accusations, which there is
    "Go back and prove you are innocent" and get murdered by a bunch of crazy redneck americans

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1105.

    Yet again a 'political activist' seeks to hide behind the laws, customs and values that he is so apposed to.

  • Comment number 1104.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1103.

    what do you think we are going to tell our children?
    'Dont tell the truth you might end up with a death penalty hanging over you from America?'

    Seriously thats the sum of this pathetic outrage.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1102.

    Since Assange faces possible charges of spying in time of war against the USA I expect seal team 6 to have him dead by end of week. killing a spy is legal under Geneva convention. No matter where he is hiding. don't for get USA drone doctrine. if you beyond USA law enforcement you free game to kill on sight..

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1101.

    This guy thinks he is some sort of super hero. Yes our stupid governments have allsorts of scary info they need to hide. But he used a poor young soldier help him get the scoop of the decade. Now we all think poor Mr Assange, everyone has forgot about the young soldier who the "Brave Mr Assange" used and abused.
    I say Mr Assange you are a despicable low life "Amateur Hack" a user and abuser.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1100.

    I'm not sure whether it's youth and inexperience on DC's part, but for the UK to make such a fool of itself on the international diplomatic stage is truly astounding.

    It's for a sovereign state to decide to whom it gives asylum, and to decide if there's a case, not the land in which it has an embassy.

    Didn't his mother tell him?

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1099.

    I don't understand why people are surprised at our governments behaviour. We have been flouting international law for years.. take the Iraq war as a prime example. It's total hyprocisy and highlights the self righteousness of our leadership. Why does our government throw out all its values at the expense of the US.. no wonder we as a nation have lost our identity.

 

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