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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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1698.

    Total Mass Retain:

    Given the circumstances I have absolutely no confidence in the Swedish, British, or American justice system.

    As, Mr Patino eloquently expressed earlier today, the right to a fair trial must take precidence, and since that seems impossible (at least questionable) Ecuador are obliged to grant Mr. Assange asylum - it's international law.

    1641 is spot on. It's a mockey.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1697.

    Well done Ecuador

    I've never been so ashamed to be British
    This country really is heading for the gutter

    They never breached diplomatic protocols when a police woman was shot outside the Libyan Embassy so a bail jumper is unlikely to be more important

    Unless of course he is an imortant political dissident

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Yvonne_Fletcher

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 1696.

    Astonishing. Assuange supporters are asserting that as long as one believes in the political actions and opinions of an individual, he or she is absolved from any act, criminal or otherwise. Proof that the difference between self-desribed "Progressives" and Fascists is precisely nil.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1695.

    If I was the UK government and I secretly wanted to make sure that Ecuador granted the asylum, I would come up with some silly threat about raiding the embassy, to make sure that the decision went the way I wanted it.

    I can't help thinking that the dog is barking to distract from the real intent behind the political curtains. We will probably never know what is really going on with this case.

  • Comment number 1694.

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

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1693.

    Surely the best answer would be for Ecuador to grant Julian Assange diplomatic status. Make him part of the consular staff, then he has diplomatic immunity and the UK will be violating all sorts of international conventions to arrest him. He can then be legally recalled to Ecuador and the UK police can't touch him without creating a major diplomatic incident.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1692.

    1600. Ste M
    1599. LaPetomane
    Go read the facts then come back wiser, please because I can’t bear it; I love my country but I am ashamed of the wilful ignorance displayed by many of its citizens.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1691.

    For all the people congratulating Assange, consider if the person facing the allegations of rape were your next door neighbour. Would you be so quick accept their jumping bail and seeking asylum?

    Assange had every opportunity to defend himself, yet he chose to run away.

    It is in fact more difficult to extradite to the US from Sweden than directly from the UK. Ecuador are playing games.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1690.

    Why would anyone be surprised if he WAS extradited to US? Legally, he's a perpetrator who stole and published top secret material. The only surprise other than the sad fact that there are people who support these kinds of actions would be if he got away with it.
    What’d he expect? Chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk...? Time for a reality check, Julian!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1689.

    In 1989 we saw east Germans who were in real danger of being arrested for crimes against their state (this was not a political crime in the DDR) seeking refuge in the West German Embassy in Prague. Subsequently they left for the west VIA the DDR.
    Despite a 'holier than thou' attitude then, the UK may be prepared to forget morality and international rights in an effort to suck up to the USA

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1688.

    I am deeply saddened by my governments continued attitude towards this whole affair. It is quite clear that there is a witch hunt in progress of epic proportions & seemingly the governments involved are using every crafty in the book to try to nail him. Just remember two things.1) the people are not as stupid as you would like to believe. 2) what goes around comes around.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1687.

    Short of flying him out in a helicopter he will be arrested as soon as he sets foot outside the embassy. Does he expect to stay there for the rest of his life? The thing that annoys me most is that yet again countless millions will have been spent on one guy who shouldn't even be here but there is no money to look after the elderly.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 1686.

    We should have just put the coward on the plane to Australia when their Olympians returned home last week.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1685.

    'I find it incredible that people will blindly follow Assange as if he were a Messiah'

    I am amazed the same people are quite happy to insinuate a double accusation of rape is a conspiracy theory! Shameful, the man should have the back bone and pride to prove himself innocent, if that is what he is?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1684.

    661.de rigueur
    The desire of some people to elevate Assange into a kind of hero is lamentable.
    //////
    The desire of some people to see Assange hang is lamentable.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1683.

    WHY did the UK Government make this "revoke embassy" comment 2 hrs BEFORE the announcement and not 2 months ago? Why did it 'suddenly' come into play? Wiki leaks isn't the only one with covert information ;-)

  • Comment number 1682.

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

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 1681.

    This man is not above the law. It seems to me that the Scandinavian countries are some of the most liberal in the world and do their utmost to ensure fair trials. Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden. The accusations against him are serious. If it was anyone else there would be no debate. I feel totally confident that he would be dealt with fairly and he trying to get out of facing court.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1680.

    The way the UK, US and Sweden have acted against Mr. Assange, raises serious concerns around civil liberties, freedom of speach and information, and abuse of power to misrepresent a character with the aim to discredit. Why do the BBC fail to ask these legitimate concerns shared by most of us? Do these governments think that we are so stupid that we cannot see beyond their actions?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1679.

    So if the Damn Yankees believe that a criminal act has been committed by Assange, why have they not asked the UK government to instutute formal extradition proceedings? The answer is in the Wikileaks revelations - too many Republican rednecks caught with their trouser's around their ankles! Silly boys - should have used a condom and not a Swedish made one!

 

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