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
    +4

    Comment number 1598.

    1501.hunk4hire
    He's accused of RAPE!!

    Oh for Christ sake!! They want to question him over allegations that he didn't wear a condom during consensual sex! HE IS NOT ACCUSED OF RAPE

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1597.

    Whistle blower? You only have to read some of the documents subject of wiki-leaks to realise that their release was nothing to do with exposing wrong doing! Political posturing - definitely yes. Be a man and face your accusers like everyone else. Its not like your being returned to a country with a poor human rights record.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1596.

    1372. Total Mass Retain
    So true, this is about is the freedom to know what your governments are up to. Whether you are of the left or right, that freedom should be at the heart of democracy, for those that don’t understand this go live in a police state, just take your pick, left or right. Better still go do some research into the facts, the level of ignorance on display today is stunning.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1595.

    Assange had consentual sexual intercourse with a willing partner - the crime he is accused of was saying he was using a condom when he wasn't or didn't or forgot or whatever it turns out to be, which under Swedish Law, is considered as "rape" .. note to those who don't bother looking behind the headlines : Consentual .. Willing Partner .. he never raped anybody in the strictest sense of the word.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1594.

    @1549
    Why the hell should we be grovelling to South American country's like Argentina & Ecuador? They want the Falklands for one think only...OIL!
    Check out UK company Rockhopper, cannot believe how naive people are on this site, seriously brain washed with political correctness.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1593.

    Apart from any other considerations, I believe that entering the Ecuadorian embassy would be an idiotic decision.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1592.

    I find it stunning that under pressure from the USA that the UK can move so quickly. Where was the same endeavour when it came to extraditing Qatada ????? Maybe Assange should develop Asperger's Syndrome.

  • Comment number 1591.

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

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1590.

    Well it didn't take the Foreign Office and Home Secretary long to ruin the post Olympic "Cool Britannia Feeling" did it?

    We might as well put stars and stripes on the Union Jack as the US of A is obviously guiding our foreign policy and diplomatic decisions.

    No not guiding, is taking those decisions for us. I know we have a "special relationship", our role in it - a benign, toothless lapdog?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1589.

    1563.Marord
    His behaviour at present suggests he does not take the rape allegations seriously, which is rather disturbing.

    Why would he if he didnt do it? Neither would I.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1588.

    1558.Phil
    Just now
    Sweden, home of Nokia.
    If Stuart Hazell can appear at the Old Bailey by video link, why can't Assange answer Swedens questions by video link?

    My goodness some here can't even get the basics right, Nokia is HQ'd in Finland!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1587.

    What is consensual rape? isn't this categorically an invalid argument?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1586.

    I think the FO got carried away. I don't have much admiration for the Assange figure, but he is not a terrorist threat and even the Soviets used to respect the foreign embassy status: some Cold War dissidents famously took refuge that way. Are we following Iran's example?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1585.

    In my view is that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is fearful of the death penalty and is trying to seek the asylum of Ecuador to avoid being extradited to the USA. The US, in my view, will punish any person who will gain access to secret material, even though, perhaps, their systems are not that secure. In my view, he is trying to avoid an unfair legal system.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1584.

    @ Shaka "Assange is perfectly prepared to go to Sweden to answer the allegations. All his lawyers asked for was a promise that he would not subsequently be extradited to the US." If you are being extradited you don't get to make rules on what happens next. "OK Guv I'll come quietly but only if I can do bird at HMP Wandsworth not HMP Brixton." It doesn't work like that and nor should it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1583.

    I am absolutely staggered that people actually believe that he has in any way broken any law in Sweden, let alone raped 2 women.
    Open your eyes people to the true facts, and I dont mean just reading the BBC news website and a couple of slanted papers.
    Ex-Military here too, and the real secrets will never be leaked.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1582.

    @1461

    I think the vast majority of people agree with you.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1581.

    He clearly knew the nature of the beast he was dealing with when he started this. He's made his bed and should lie in it. He's clearly not a man of conviction or courage to back his site up in person and have his day in court. Otherwise he would be standing alongside his co-accused who leaked the documents. Coward.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1580.

    Also why are people suggesting that we'd be breaking the law by "raiding the embassy", which is a rather emotive way of saying two police officers walk in and arrest Assange. Anyone who bothered to read the article would know that we can legally revoke their diplomatic immunity and enter the premises if necessary.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1579.

    These are ill-conceived, almost panic, measures by the British Government in threatening to enforce entry into another nation's embassy against all long established traditions of nations' territorial rights in respect of their embassies: it would be a sad day for Britain if other nations followed this course with her foreign embassies. The US must have increased pressure on it's minions here.

 

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