Assange took refuge in Ecuador‘s Londonembassy on June 19. The decision to grant asylum to Assange follows a U.K. Supreme Court ruling in May which authorized Assange’s extradition to Sweden, where he is to face questioning over allegations of sexual assault made by two female former Wikileaks volunteers stemming from mid-2010. Assange has claimed the sex was consensual, and that the accusations are politically motivated.
On Thursday, Ecuadorean foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, speaking at a news conference in Quito, said the Ecuadorian government had given the matter “extreme and careful consideration.” Prior to the announcement, though, Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa showed some defiance, saying, “No one [meaning the U.K.] is going to terrorize us!”
Patiño said he hoped the U.K. would allow Assange to leave the embassy in London, so that he could board a flight and travel to Ecuador. That, however, is not going to happen. The U.K. has already said that it has a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden, were he to emerge from the embassy, which is considered Ecuadorian soil.
In fact, London police are stationed on the doorstep of the Ecuadorian embassy, ready to arrest the Assange should he attempt to leave the building. The image above, provided by Occupy London and Twitter, shows that fact in detail. Police cannot enter the embassy without the permission of Ecuador’s ambassador.
WikiLeaks is famous, or perhaps infamous, for several releases which proved embarrassing to the U.S. and other countries. Among them were the so-called “Afghan War Diary,” a treasure chest of some 91,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan, and “The Embassy Files,” a cache of diplomatic cables.
Assange has said that he fears that should he be extradited to Sweden, the United States would then request its own extradition from there under U.S. espionage laws. However, U.K. authorities would have to approve a U.S. extradition from Sweden, should such a request be made.
Police have said that Assange has broken bail, which means that regardless of the extradition proceedings themselves, he faces arrest. His bail conditions require him to remain at an arranged address in the southeast of England between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. local time.
In addition, the U.K. warned Ecuador, in a letter sent to Patiño, that despite the normal invulnerability provided by embassy soil, “there is a legal base in the U.K. … that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr. Assange in the current premises of the Embassy,” citing the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 that allows the U.K. to revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy in the country.
This is the probable reason for Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa’s statement about being terrorized. In a statement on its website, Wikileaks said, “Any transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies worldwide.”
The U.K., however, warned in its letter to that it considers “use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention.”