Ecuador said that it was granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a decision that thrilled supporters but will do little to defuse the standoff at the Latin American nation’s London embassy, where the Australian ex-hacker has been holed up for almost two months.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Ecuador believed Assange faced a real threat of political persecution — including the prospect of extradition to the United States, where Patino said the head of the secret-spilling website would not get a fair trial. “It is not impossible that he would be treated in a cruel manner, condemned to life in prison, or even the death penalty,” Patino said. “Ecuador is convinced that his procedural rights have been violated.”
A crowd gathered outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Assange, a 41-year-old Australian native, has been holed up since June, to hear the verdict. At least three protestors were arrested.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office called Ecuador’s decision to grant Assange asylum “regrettable”. “British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden,” a spokesman for the office said. “We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorean government’s decision this afternoon does not change that.”
It’s unclear what will happen to Assange now. UK authorities say his asylum is a violation of his probation — and there is reason to believe he would be arrested if he tried to leave the embassy.
Assange fears his extradition would lead him to be turned over to the United States, which has condemned WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents.
On Wednesday, Patino said he received a “clear and written” threat from British authorities who claimed “they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange.”
British officials said they are obligated to turn Assange over to Stockholm. “Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection. But that decision has not yet been taken. We want to stress that we want a diplomatically agreeable solution,” said a British official.
WikiLeaks warns UK against embassy raid
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson has warned Britain against any attempt to enter Ecuador’s London embassy and arrest his colleague Julian Assange, who has been granted asylum. “I am delighted that Ecuador has decided to offer asylum to Julian Assange and did not bow to the intimidation and bullying by the UK,” Hrafnsson said. “I hope that the UK authorities are sensible enough not to enter the embassy without permission, which would risk upsetting diplomatic relations all over the world,” he added.