The Julian Assange saga didn’t seem like it could get any more bizarre, but Ecuador now claims that UK authorities threatened to raid the Ecuadorean embassy to nab the WikiLeaks leader if the country didn’t hand over the fugitive.
“Today we’ve received a threat by the United Kingdom, a clear and written threat that they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange,” Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters.
Patino expressed outrage over the threat, suggesting that the sun indeed has set on the British empire.
“We are not a British colony,” he said in an angry statement given to Reuters.
Ecuador, which has denied an earlier report by the Guardian newspaper that it had already agreed to grant Assange asylum, stated that it would be revealing its decision about his asylum request on Thursday.
The UK Foreign Office issued a statement saying that it has “a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we are remain determined to fulfil this obligation. We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture.”
The office added that it is “still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.”
Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy on June 19, just as the deadline was approaching for him to turn himself over to authorities to begin extradition proceedings to Sweden, where he faces questioning on sex-crimes allegations. He’s been sequestered in the embassy ever since, awaiting the decision of the Ecuadorean government.
Even with a grant of asylum, however, it remains to be seen how Assange will manage to leave London without being arrested by UK police, who have staked out the Ecuadorean embassy for weeks while Assange has been holed up there. He faces arrest for breach of bail if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy, so passage for him out of England, under diplomatic cover, would have to be negotiated with UK authorities.
As part of his bail conditions, granted by the High Court in December 2010, Assange was required to remain at his bail address between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. each night, which he violated from the night he sought asylum at the embassy.
Metropolitan police have been stationed outside the embassy, waiting to arrest Assange if he left the premises. They have authority to stop any vehicle or helicopter he might travel in to get out of the country.
An Ecuadorean source told the Guardian that the Latin American government sees Assange’s request “as a humanitarian issue.”
“The contact between the Ecuadorean government and WikiLeaks goes back to May 2011, when we became the first country to see the leaked US embassy cables completely declassified,” he told the newspaper. “It is clear that when Julian entered the embassy there was already some sort of deal. We see in his work a parallel with our struggle for national sovereignty and the democratisation of international relations.”
Assange, in seeking asylum, asserted that Australia, his native country, appeared to have no plans to protect him, which put him in a state of “helplessness,” according to a statement that statement from Ecuador’s foreign ministry made at the time of his request.
Assange requested diplomatic protection and political asylum under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” However, the second clause of the article states that “the right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.”
Assange is not, in fact, accused of political crimes. He is being sought for questioning in Sweden on rape and coercion allegations stemming from separate sexual relations he had with two women in that country in August 2010. One woman told police that Assange pinned her down to have sex with her and that she suspected he intentionally tore a condom he wore. The second woman reported that he had sex with her while she was initially asleep, failing to wear a condom despite repeated requests for him to do so. Assange has denied any wrongdoing, asserting that the sex in both cases was consensual.
His attorneys have been fighting extradition to Sweden because they say the investigation is a ruse to make it easier for the United States to further extradite him to the U.S. to face criminal charges over the publication of millions of U.S. classified diplomatic cables.
Update: Two citizen journalists have been providing intermittently-live feeds from outside the embassy. Their video channels are below.
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