Britain will continue its efforts to extradite Julian Assange to Sweden despite his being granted political asylum by Ecuador, says UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. Britain doesn’t recognize Assange’s asylum status, he adds.
The UK “remains committed” to its obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden for questioning in a case unrelated to his activities with WikiLeaks or the US attitude, said the British Foreign Ministry Thursday evening. The press conference followed a statement made by Ecuador in which the South American country granted political asylum to the WikiLeaks founder.
“The Ecuadorian Government’s decision this afternoon does not change it in any way,” said Hague. “We must carry out that obligation and we fully intend to do so.”
Hague says Assange’s diplomatic immunity won’t be recognized in the UK.
“Diplomatic immunity exists to allow embassies and diplomats to exercise proper diplomatic functions, and the harboring of alleged criminals or frustrating a due legal process in a country is not a permitted function of diplomats under the Vienna Convention,” he explained.
Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning on accusations related to rape, sexual molestation and illegal coercion. Still, no formal charges have yet been put forward against him.
The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum as such, continued Hague, but even for those countries that do recognize it, the option should not be used for “escaping regular process of the court.” The Foreign Minister stressed Assange is “a suspect” Britain is obliged to deliver for questioning on “serious sexual offences” as a nation under the Extradition Act.
Thus, Assange will not be permitted to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been taking refuge since June 19.
“We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the UK,” said Hague reiterating vows made by British officials before Ecuador announced their decision.
Still, according to the Foreign Secretary, London is trying to reach “a diplomatic solution” for the task. Moreover, there is no threat to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Assange is holed up since the situation could go on for a considerable time, Hague said. On the eve of the asylum decision announcement, Ecuadorian officials accused the UK of threatening to assault their embassy if the South American country fails to hand over the controversial whistle-blower.
WikiLawyer: British obstruction will be referred to ICC
Any attempt by London to prevent Assange from leaving the country for Ecuador will be subject to an appeal to the International Court of Justice, says Baltasar Garzon, who heads Assange’s legal team.
“What the United Kingdom must do is apply the diplomatic obligations of the Refugee Convention and let him leave, giving him safe conduct,” the former judge told Spanish newspaper El Pais.
As the political exchange between Ecuador on the one side and the UK and Sweden on the other gains momentum, the US and EU have been quick to make statements dissociating themselves with the process.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said that while the bloc is following the diplomatic standoff closely, it is still a matter between Ecuador and the UK and Sweden. The US State Department commented along the same lines.
“It is an issue among the countries involved, and we are not planning to interject ourselves,” the State Department’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Thursday. She also denied that Washington wants to persecute the WikiLeaks founder.
“With regard to the charge that the US was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely,” Nuland said as quoted by The Economic Times.
‘US, UK trying to intimidate Ecuador’
Assange’s legal advisor Michael Ratner described Ecuador’s decision to“stand up to the United States and the United Kingdom” as “great” and “courageous.”
However, Ratner was taken aback by the UK’s threats to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, saying there is no precedent for it in “diplomatic history.”
Ratner says the UK’s increasingly hardline response is being driven by a puppeteer in Washington, “who wants to get its hands on Julian Assange and try him.”
“Really what Ecuador’s now placed a clear label on [is that] political reporting on corruption and crime is now protected by asylum. So we hope that the UK and the US back off,” he said.
Ratner concluded that if the UK does in fact go into the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Assange, the consequences on the international stage will be disastrous.
“Now it is for the peoples of the world and the nations of the world to come to Ecuador’s support, because if they don’t, this is threatening the entire asylum regime all over the world. If you can go into an embassy and then get forcibly extracted by the very country that seeks to send you on to your persecution, it’s an outrageous and flagrant violation of international law,” he said.
“It’s being done because Ecuador is a small country, and ranged against it are the UK and the United States. And those countries, acting like the colonial powers they at least remain in their hearts, if not in fact, are trying to hit Ecuador around and intimidate it. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Ratner concluded.