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
    -3

    Comment number 1238.

    Equador this has nothing to do with you. But out out and let this creep fight his corners in the Swedish Courts like every ordinary person would have to if they were thought to have broken that contrys laws. One rule for the rich and sod the rest of us.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1237.

    Why is everyone talking about 'pleasing the US'?

    The request for extradition came from Sweden, was valid, and should be complied with.

    What Sweden does with him afterwards will, no doubt, be the subject of another court case.

  • Comment number 1236.

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

  • Comment number 1235.

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

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1234.

    it looks like we have all the supporters of wikileaks on here with there stupid left wing views.
    we will have the last say in this.
    he will go to sweden.
    he will be arrested outside the embassy.
    and you will all cry over your beloved leader when he is jailed.
    good ridence to bad rubbish.
    cant wait for it to happen.
    justice for the woman in sweden

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1233.

    The UK gave Assange 2 weeks freedom; they could expect he would to do runner. The Ecuadorian threat is probably to force his political asylum. Although maybe stressful and serious for Mr Assange it was his choice to take this route. Governments do not put a single person wel-lbeing above state standing, unless defending that person's rights are deemed profitable. He was given grace to escape.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1232.

    "Ecuador’s laws restrict freedom of expression, and government officials, including (president) Correa, use these laws against his critics." (Human Rights Watch)

    Maybe they'll make Assange Minister of Justice?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1231.

    Why did we let someone shoot and kill a serving British police officer from inside the Libyan embassy and let them leave the country but we are going to use a unknown law to arrest Julian Assange

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 1230.

    Very interesting documentary aired on Australian ABC '4 Corners' program in July '12 "Sex, Lies and Julian Assange' by Andrew Fowler and Wayne Harley. JA was told there was no case to answer and he did not leave Sweden until weeks later. One has to ask why the Swedish authorities changed their minds and wanted him to return to Sweden for questioning.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1229.

    If Ecuador is so worried about his human rights, then why deny the Swedes the ability to question Assange in their own embassy under their supervision? Ecuador is in bed with Chavez of Venezuela and is at diplomatic odds with the US. If there is a political stunt here, it is being done by Ecuador and once again by Assange.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1228.

    You begin to wonder if there is not something to Assange's claims if the government are really prepared to withdraw Ecuador's diplomatic status over 1 person alleged crime.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1227.

    Have none of the lefty Assange worshippers found an Israel connection yet?

    Come on guys and gals, think about it....the UK and Sweden are American poodles and America is controlled by Israel. Yes?

    If you trawl through wikileaks.... You should find reference to it somewhere.

    ;-)


    So is it official, so long as a suspected sex criminal holes up in an embassy, he is a hero?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1226.

    Try again .. my last comment didn't pass.
    So, the Swedish prosecutor threw out this case long ago, and then it was resurrected. Now why do you think ? .. because the US wants Assange and the UK is complying. Thank God Ecuador isn't bowing down as well to this blatant stich-up. Julian should stay where he is and wait for another govt. after the next election..

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1225.

    I am disgusted at the UK Government's challenge to the sovereignty of Ecuador! I have not seen a single thing that Mr Assange has disclosed that has been a life and death risk to the personnel of the USA - it has all been disclosures that have been embarrassments to bumptious US politicians and public servants. All they want is revenge on a man who refused to be cowed.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1224.

    Adrian HAmlin, you have indeed missed a lot. If it is about the rape (which hardly anyone believes) why will Sweden not promise to return him to the UK after any trial and possible punishment?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1223.

    Just checking did someone really report my comment for comparing JA with Rasputin? Or for calling him a Charlatan? As that seems to be the only words which differ from everyone elses posts. Everything else was Guardian based historical fact

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1222.

    Isn't it funny how a certain film director (actually convicted of the crime of unlawful sex with a minor) is protected from extradition to the USA by various EU countries. And a man who exposed wrong doing by the US and other governments is having to hide in a 3rd world countriy as the US and Europe try to get their hands on him (even though he has yet to be charged). We are missing something!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1221.

    It would appear that he’s not accused of rape but unprotected sex, one of the women is sad to be appalled that the Swedish authorities want to question him. Let’s get the facts straight he’s wanted for questioning, he has not been charged.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 1220.

    I cannot believe the number of people supporting this creep and calling the Swedish & British legal system into disrepute. The Ecuadorian people are not being brave - they are being manipulated by their flawed president. People like Assange are dispicable and actually only self interested. I genuinely wish him badly.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1219.

    How unbelievably brainless the British government is in threatening to go into the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

    Henceforth, our government won't have a leg to stand on if a foreign government went into the British embassy in that country.

 

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