Ecuador has granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The decision comes almost two months after the world-famous whistleblower came to the country’s embassy in London seeking protection.
“We have decided to grant political asylum to Mr. Assange,” said Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino. “We can state that he can be politically prosecuted.”
The announcement was met with celebrations outside the Ecuadorian embassy as the WikiLeaks founder’s supporters began chanting “Hands off Ecuador” and “Assange freedom fighter.”
Patino admitted that Julian Assange’s rights are endangered, as he is at high risk of extradition from Sweden to the US. Moreover, Assange’s home country will not provide him with adequate legal protection, he said.
“We think [Assange’s] extradition is viable to a country outside the EU,” Patino said at a press conference at the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry. “If this happens, he will not get a fair trial and his rights won’t be respected. Most probably he will face a military court in the US.”
”Ecuador has confirmed Assange does not have enough protection from Australia where he holds citizenship,” Patino said.
Patino also reiterated an offer Quito put forward to allow Sweden to interview Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which was turned down. Stockholm would neither guarantee that the WikiLeaks founder would not be extradited again once he is on Swedish soil.
The UK Foreign Office says it regrets Ecuador’s decision, but says it does not affect Britain’s legal obligation to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to Sweden.
“We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act,” read the Foreign Office’s Twitter following Patino’s statement. “Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal UK authorities are under binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation.”
Earlier in the day, the British government has stated is has absolutely no intention of letting Assange reach the South American country. The UK said that it will do everything in its power to block Assange’s passage to Ecuador.
UK authorities sparked a scandal when they announced they were prepared to raid the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to apprehend Assange, effectively revoking the embassy’s diplomatic immunity.
In the first part of his speech, Ricardo Patino extensively reprimanded the approach saying that such an act would be interpreted as “hostile and intolerable,” and an attack on Ecuador’s sovereignty that would provoke a dramatic diplomatic response.
““I will hit you hard, but if you behave I might not,” the Ecuadorian foreign minister said reminding that UN and Vienna Conventions prohibit violating diplomatic space.
Ecuador claimed they received a “direct” written threat on Wednesday that authorities in London are prepared to storm the Ecuadorian embassy and arrest Assange if he is not delivered into their custody. The note was delivered to Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry and ambassador in London, Patino said.
“You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr. Assange in the current premises of the Embassy,” the letter said.“We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr. Assange’s presence in your premises, this is an open option for us.”
“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 Foreign Office spokesperson said, adding that the UK is seeking a “diplomatically agreeable solution” to the issue.
The decision to strip the Ecuadorian Embassy of its diplomatic protection has not yet been taken, the spokesperson said: “Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection. We are not going to do this overnight.”
The threat to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy was “extremely serious” and illegal, WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnnsson told AFP.
Protestors already arrested, tension swells
Police cordoned off the area around the Ecuadorian embassy in London in an attempt to disperse a gathered crowd of protesters.
A brawl broke out earlier between police and protesters as officers surrounded the demonstrators. Three arrests were made, RT’s London correspondent said.
Assange supporters took to Twitter and other social media to urge people to gather in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, to stop British authorities from raiding it.
A 20-strong group of demonstrators gathered outside the embassy on Wednesday, and organized a livestream from the scene. According to their reports, the livestreams from the embassy suffered from DDoS attacks.
London police later moved in on the embassy after a press conference led by Patino. The foreign minister confirmed on Twitter feed that the police presence around the embassy was growing.