Ecuador grants Assange asylum

A placard is held by a supporter of Julian Assange outside the Ecuador embassy in west London on 16 August 2012 (Photo: Reuters - Olivia Harris)

Published Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ecuador on Thursday granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the country's foreign minister announced.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden on charges of rape, could face further extradition to the US where Patino warned he could not expect a fair trial.

He added that both Britain and Sweden had failed to provide assurances that Assange would not be passed over to the US, which still enforces the death penalty.

"Our country has appealed to the UK..,so that Mr Assange can face (justice)...in Sweden, but with the guarantee that (he is) never extradited to US, not exiled to US."

"Unfortunately, against all the efforts the UK never showed commitment to reach political compromise," he added.

Therefore, he said, the "Ecuadorian government has decided to grant Assange political asylum."

Sweden immediately rejected the decision, with Foreign Minister Carl Bildt saying the country guaranteed a fair trial for everyone.

"Our firm legal and constitutional system guarantees the rights of each and everyone. We firmly reject any accusations to the contrary," Bildt said on his Twitter account.

Assange hailed the decision as a "significant victory."

Addressing staff at the Ecuadoran embassy, Assange said: "It is a significant victory for myself, and my people. Things will probably get more stressful now."

Britain had said ahead of the decision that it would not grant Assange free passage to Ecuador, raising concerns that the diplomatic crisis may continue.

Assange, an Australian national and former computer hacker, came to global attention after his website published a trove of US diplomatic cables that hugely embarrassed several governments, most notably the United States, in 2010.

But it is for his personal actions – he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden – that he is currently being pursued, and he has been holed up in Ecuador's London embassy since June.

On Wednesday, Ecuador condemned Britain's threat to storm its London mission to arrest Assange, while WikiLeaks said such action would be "a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances."

Assange, 41, says he fears eventual deportation from Sweden to the United States, which would seek to try him for his website's release of thousands of diplomatic cables and logs relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Patino said Wednesday that Ecuador had received "an express threat in writing" from Britain "that they could storm our embassy if Ecuador does not hand over Julian Assange."

"Ecuador rejects in the strongest terms the explicit threat made in Britain's official communication," Patino told reporters.

"The position taken by the government of Great Britain is unacceptable, both from the political and the legal point of view," he said, warning that entering the embassy without authorization "would be a flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention" on diplomatic relations.

Assange took refuge at the embassy on June 19 to avoid extradition to Sweden, which he claims plans to eventually surrender him to US authorities.

Despite Ecuador's decision, it is unclear whether Assange will be allowed to leave, as British police wait outside the embassy allegedly ready to arrest him for breaching the terms of his bail granted in 2010.

"The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offenses and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation," a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

"We must be absolutely clear this means that, should we receive a request for safe passage for Mr Assange, after granting asylum, this would be refused," Britain's charge d'affaires told Ecuador's government, a note of the meeting showed.

Assange had embarked on a marathon round of court battles, but finally exhausted all his options under British law in June when the Supreme Court overturned his appeal against extradition.

Ecuador had said it was reviewing the sexual misconduct allegations as it weighed his asylum request. Assange maintains he had consensual sex with the alleged Swedish victims.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has said that the mere possibility that Assange could face capital punishment in the United States could be reason enough for his government to grant the activist asylum.

The leftist Correa has often been at odds with Washington and has expressed support for Assange, offering him asylum in 2010 before later backing off.

Assange's mother and the Spanish former judge Baltasar Garzon, who is helping to represent him, recently traveled to Ecuador to argue on his behalf.

Offering shelter to a high-profile figure like Assange – hailed as a whistleblower by his supporters – could help Correa push back against critics who accuse him of clamping down on press freedom.

Britain's own embassy in Iran was attacked by angry protesters in November 2011. British Prime Minister David Cameron at the time said the act was "outrageous and indefensible."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

Comments

Out of reach: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in a room at the Ecuadorian Embassy

Scratch the surface of life in the South American country – as I did this week – and you discover a world of fear under a Left-wing dictator who responds to dissent with an iron fist. "

Anyone in this country of just 14 million who dares question his leadership is hauled off to jail on trumped-up charges. Corruption is widespread in the government, judiciary and police.

Most ordinary citizens refuse to even be drawn into the Assange debate for fear of reprisals.

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