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

    Comment number 1718.


    Best answer: Ecuador grants 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.

    Do you really think the U.K. Gov't. will care about that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1717.

    1629.Largeprop, In answer to your question, if at all he is extradited, although, many will not support Sweden if they did that and hopefully it is not Sweden's intention, the US could charge him for "theft of" or for "receiving" stolen classified documents. That's what he fears if extradited.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1716.

    Its seems funny the UK will go to the lengths evoking their own diplomatic laws to extradite assange. However when it comes to extraditing Abu Hanza a known hate preacher they seem so modest about standing by EU laws. Why not just show Hanza the plane. Something fishy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1715.

    If the US wants him, why don't they extradite him from the UK?

  • Comment number 1714.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1713.

    One of these cases where we need to respect international law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1712.

    Rendition by the back door.Disgusting.UK bowing to the will of Uncle Sam yet again.

  • Comment number 1711.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1710.

    The work of Assange and others has demonstrated that many "developed" countries resort to fear when their actions are challenged. The leaders of the nation of Ecuador have given people who are opposed to government by intimidation a new champion. Thanks, Quito!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1709.

    In my view, Julian Assange is fearful of the death penalty, and fearful of the US legal system. Guantanimo Bay is one such subject. That is why he has sought shelter from the British, US and Sweedeish legal systems.

    My view is that the British government have made a wrong decision by publicly stating that they may stop all diplomatics with Ecuador, enabling them to enter the Ecuadorian Embassy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1708.

    Assange is accused of sexually assaulting two women, and that's that. He should go to trial. I'm all for some shaking of the towers of powers, (though Wikileaks was mostly gossip), but imagine if it was your daughter...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1707.

    The refusal by Swedish authorities to interview Mr. Assange in the UK; their refusal to take up the offer of Ecuador to interview him inside the Ecuadorian embassy, these all confirm that their goal is not to question him about some alleged offense but to persecute him for political reasons. The position of the USA, the UK and Sweden is indefensible.To threaten invasion of an embassy is shocking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1706.

    What a man of double standards.

    He tells all of the world that he stands for openness and honesty via Wiki leaks.

    If that is the case whey hasn't he got the guts to face the charges in Sweden?

    All of this stuff about him being extradited to the USA is just a smokescreen.

    The man is a creep.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1705.

    Mr. Assange has allegedly assaulted 2 women. The 2 alleged victims filed allegations to that effect. There’s too much “alleging” going on, perhaps a few facts might clear the air.
    Its time this country stopped appeasing and apologising to the world and stood on its own two feet once more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1704.

    The only reason the British government want to him send to Sweden is so he can be sent to the US. The only reason the US want him is because he's made then look like idiots. The US dont like anybody who makes them look foolish or tries to undermine their power. The tension with Iran is because their government want sell oil in Euros and the US wont be able to make their 10%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1703.

    Nicklinson loses right-to-die bid

    No trendy lefties fighting for this mans human rights....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1702.

    Another option: to educate the policemen (think of it as brainwashing, in the good sense of 'washing'). Hang large screens on the Equadorian embassy, and speakers. Make it like a museum, so that they can learn about the situation, and not follow the orders blindly, before understanding what they represent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1701.

    Do we have YTS staff in the FCO as well as 11 Downing St now? This is beyond foolish and will bring more concerted SouthAm pressure against the UK over the Falklands than Kirchner could dream of. And whatever the Swedish smokescreen, all this to support a US that doesn't support us over the FI and is engaged in economic subterfuge against our financial institutions (no I'm not a merchant banker)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1700.

    I hope they arrest him. It's good that Ecuador is showing it's true colors too; another Venezuela and Cuba... let them pay the price for harboring a fugitive. They flaunt and abuse the law and so don't deserve to have respect from the international community. They shouldn't have let Assange stay there in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1699.

    it's about the refusal of Sweden to give undertakings that if charged in Sweden that he will not then subsequently be extradited to the USA where he could face the death penalty"

    That's rubbish as Sweden (like the UK) cannot extradite anyone to face the death penalty, so it does not need to provide such a guarantee. But at present Sweden cannot give guarantees about a hypothetical event.


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