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
    -1

    Comment number 1578.

    "This is just another example of how they ignore the general feelings of the public" @1507.

    If you bothered to read the comments on here you will find that the general feeling of the public is not one of support for Assange.
    Please do not assume that we all believe the US/UK/Sweden conspiracy theory.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1577.

    To all those people who think he's running because he's guilty... just think for a second, what if he IS innocent ? put yourself in his shoes, what would that tell you? Now put yourselves in the shoes of a government .... how can we stop him revealing our secrets? have you ever heard of Occam's razor?..... apply it it becomes crystal clear

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1576.

    Mr. Hague. Hang you head in shame. A complete disgrace to the UK

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1575.

    Surely the threat by the UK government to revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy is foolish in the extreme. After the problems the UK faced with its embassies in Iran last year, how can we demand that the sovereignty of our embassies is protected when we threaten foreign embassies in our own country? It undermines the basis of international diplomacy as it stands.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1574.

    I agree with the Baron. Its about time we stood up to these corrupt governments and policticians who reek of double standards. The man in the street needs to grow a pair and fight back

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1573.

    As an Aussie, Im ashamed of our govt (once again..) Our govt has absolutely no balls when it comes to standing upto America.. Something tells me theres more to be revealed too.. The banking sector for a start.. Thank goodness for countries like Ecuador who value peoples rights!!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1572.

    The popular view of Mr Assange as a crusadin of free speech is bewildering. Wikileaks is predicated on the illegal and antisocial action of hacking; and has compromised our national security.

    Nevertheless, he is not guilty of anything until he has been found so, in a recognised court of law. If he is innocent, he will be exonnerated.

    Which makes you wonder why is he running away?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1571.

    No report that Assange said he would go back to Sweden to face these chargers if he wasn't extradited to the US and Sweden said no. Clearly this all for the Americans again

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1570.

    place my previous comment, revealing how biased his the uk decision

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1569.

    Let's not forget the rape allegations consist of what started out as consensual sex and resulted in a broken condom in one case and a reluctance to wear one in another. The first 'victim' subsequently threw a party for him and the second went to buy him breakfast. Hardly the actions of abused women and the timing of the charges (just after Wikileaks first major release) is very convenient.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1568.

    Being a US citizen (and on occasion embarrassed by it), I must say that in my opinion this whole mess was engineered. Assange has the right to freedom of speech, the US gov should leave it be, take their licking, the UK should stay out of the embassy and leave Assange be. As a US citizen, I am embarrassed for our gov. It smacks of oppression, sort of Hitleresque. Secrecy has gone too far

  • Comment number 1567.

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

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1566.

    If they'd done this before the Olympics Mr Assange could have been strung from the smoke stacks to show how Britain has ended up where it has today.
    NBC might have shown the whole show, and the Chinese would learn not to let political agitators take refuge in foreign embassies.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1565.

    so...why does anyone have to do anything? Assange (apparently) can't get out of the embassy without being arrested. And surely the Brits won't be daft enough to go get him (sounds like a pretty bad precedent to set despite whatever legal wording there is). Why let him wear out his welcome in the embassy, and arrest when he leaves?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1564.

    Puppets of the USA

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 1563.

    A lot of people here seem to be ignoring the various serious allegations levelled against Assange in Sweden - if he is innocent, he has nothing to fear from extradition and should want to clear his name, regardless of anything else. His behaviour at present suggests he does not take the rape allegations seriously, which is rather disturbing.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1562.

    "Assange is innocent, rape laws in Sweden are stupid, its all over the use of a condom"

    I don't know whether Assange is innocent or guilty, but I really wish they would mention in the article that this is the nature of the allegation, since based on the comments it's clear that many don't know it. The Beeb *must* realise how downright misleading it is to just say "rape", surely?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1561.

    The main issue is that the UK or Sweden cannot guarantee the extradiction to the US after the rape trial whether he is guilty or not.

    I think the UK should not lift the diplomatic status of Ecuadorian Embassy at any cost because of American or EU extradiction agreements because this will give rogue governments around the world an excuse to enter into the UK embassies.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1560.

    As I see it sweden have asked he to be extradited for a sexual offence he committed against swedish law. This was accepted by our courts and he then commited an offence against our bail act. The Ecuadorians are harbouring a criminal. Does this mean now anybody in the world can committ crime and just cry Human rights to get away with it.I do not believe he would not get a fair trial in Sweden

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1559.

    It amazes me how many stupid ignorant posts on here who actually believe that any rape has taken place, or that an international arrest warrant is justified in this case. When Sweden has been continually offered access to interview Mr Assange here in the UK.

    Try reading or knowing something about the whole story or case before jumping on the rape bandwagon.

 

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