Ecuador has granted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s request of political asylum. Assange has been inside the embassy after escaping on June 19 from house arrest to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he believes he would be further extradited the United States.
In a press conference, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Richard Patino noted that his fears of political persecution were “legitimate”, according to the BBC.
“The Ecuador government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us at our diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange,” Patino said in the press conference.
The UK Foreign Office tweeted that they were disappointed by Ecuador’s decision, saying “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. The Ecuadorian Government’s decision this afternoon does not change that,” it continued. “We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act.”
The UK has previous threatened that it would use the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 – which allows the UK’s Foreign Minister to revoke a country’s diplomatic immunity. First introduced after shootings outside a Libyan embassy that resulted in the murder of a police officer Yvonne Fletcher, this would be the first time the UK has used the law – if it does choose to take that route. It does come with heavy consequences, meaning that any other country can break diplomatic immunity to retrieve a person.
Logistics, however, are unknown at the moment. He is still technically in Ecuadorian soil while inside an embassy or inside the car. However, once he steps outside the embassy, he can be arrested by UK police; and the UK police are free to halt the car to force him to leave.
Julian Assange lost his bid to stop his extradition in the British Supreme Court on May 30, meaning that the UK has to hand over him to Sweden for questioning after allegation of sex crimes. Assange claims the allegations were politically motivated and the sex was consenutal. However, Assange has previously said that he would be willing to go to Sweden – but only on when it guarantees that the United States will not seek his extradition when reaching the Nordic country.
Ecuador has offered Swedish investigators to hold their interview inside the embassy – but that was rejected.