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 1818.

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

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1817.

    Can believe the level of numptiness on this message board...
    1. Extradition to US theory - utter garbage if US wanted him it is infinitely easier to apply to UK government (they don't even require Prima Facie evidence)
    2. Agree not charged but is under an arrest warrant, Rape charges were initially dropped but re-opened, however they did continue to investigate molestation charge.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1816.

    WE really admire Ecuador for giving asyleun to J. Assange in such a pressure.
    We expect Sir Paul McCartney who wrore a weird letter in support of Pussy Riot ( a provoking untalented group paid to challenge Russian traditional values) to support Assange if he is a true fighter for freedom of speech.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1815.

    Ecuador sheltering a man who claims to champion freedom of speech strikes me as massively hypocritical:

    From the Human Rights Watch:

    "President Rafael Correa obtained a popular mandate.. that could significantly increase government powers to constrain media..."

    "Ecuador’s laws restrict freedom of expression, and government officials, including Correa, use these laws against his critics."

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1814.

    Even if you totally ignore Assange , I find it deplorable that government officials would threaten to " storm" the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy in order to effect an arrest. They didn't do it when that female officer was murdered by someone inside the Libyan Embassy some decades back but now are threatening to violate a nations sovereign ground? It defies logic !

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1813.

    @alf,
    I think you have hit the nail on the head.
    What right have we as a so called civilised democratic nation to flex our muscles on what could be conveniently trumped up allegations.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1812.

    I am stupid, so could someone clever please explain why the man who sold the equvilent of burglar alarm batteries to the Iranians is currently in custody in a US jail.
    Compare that with the protracted process Assange has been afforded, you have to wonder how serious the attempts to get him into court are!
    Also after the Dominic Strass Kahn affair you have to wonder about these rape claims.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1811.

    How much time, effort, and money has been expended on pursing Mr. Assange for the alleged crime of - and I am not making this up - having sex consensually without a condom?!? Go read the Swedish allegations - that's all they are. But Swedish law allows a girl to claim such was an offense _retroactively_ it appears. And for this, we UK taxpayers are spending how much to play out this theater?

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 1810.

    Ive no interest in Assange or Wikileaks. Hes an utterly inconsquential nobody.
    Unfortunately hes a nobody thats costing the UK tax payer a small fortune in legal bills.

    About time we kicked out these daft human rights laws...he'd have been extradited long ago if so. And the only people crying would have been a few slightly poorer lawyers,

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1809.

    Really, this is shockingly bad protocol on the part of the UK government. Cabinet ministers involved should be fired forthwith, David C should apologise to Ecuador, and Assange should be given safe passage out of the UK. Anything else would represent the worst-faith dealings of a UK government since the Blair's manufactured hysteria about weapons of mass destruction.

  • Comment number 1808.

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

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1807.

    I find it hard to believe that the UK would endanger its embassies abroad by violating another nations embassy. What country is going to respect British embassys if they do this? Assange has placed himself in a prison. A nice one but still a prison. Let him stay there. As to the sex charges, the entire world knows why he has been charged.

  • Comment number 1806.

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

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1805.

    If the british goverment storm that embassy it will confirm my beliefs that we are living within a NAZI STATE, all they are doing is pandering to the whims of the US goverment .

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1804.

    What a great move for the narcissist Assange. When he no longer has value to Ecuador's president Correa he will lack the freedom to freely operate as he did in the free economies that let to publicize his nefarious receipt of selected privileged information. With this alleged asylum he now voids the very personal privilege he professes to have pursued. It may be hard jail time for sure now.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 1803.

    Due process should occcur and Assange should answer the serious charges placed before him. Some of you are writing as if the Ecuadorian embassy has actually been entered by British forces. A threat is not the same as action so let's comment on that if it actually happens, which I think and hope it will not.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 1802.

    So many comments lashing out at the British authorities for storming the embassy. Well, they haven't stormed the embassy. Seems like some people want them to so that they can justify their obvious anger.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 1801.

    Mr Assange must stand trial in Sweden for a very serious sexual crime. It seems Mr Assange has found a perfect place to hide. He has been strong enough to stand up to the might of the US and leak these documents, yet he is not strong enough to stand up in a Swedish court and face his accusers. Strange.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1800.

    John Pilger has pointed out:The barrister who acted for Assange says that both women told prosecutors that they consented to have sex with Assange. Following the "crime"one of the women threw a party in honour of Assange. When Borgström was asked why he was representing the women, as both denied rape, he said: Yes but they are not lawyers.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1799.

    Anyone who doesn't believe the charges against Mr. Assange are politically motivated is suffering from willful blindness.

 

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