ECUADOR yesterday granted political asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and called on the UK to ‘guarantee safe passage to Mr Assange to complete his asylum’.
Announcing the decision of Equador’s President, Rafeal Correa, at a news conference in Quito, foreign minister Ricardo Patino said this followed the failure to obtain assurances from Sweden and the UK that if extradited to Sweden, Assange would not be passed on to the US to face espionage charges.
Ecuador foreign minister Patino concluded by saying: ‘I hope our friendship with the United Kingdom will remain intact.’
Assange has been taking refuge in the Ecuador embassy in London for the last 56 days in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, and extradition to the US from there.
A large number of supporters have been demonstrating outside the embassy and a cheer went up when news of his asylum was announced.
Police earlier made a number of violent arrests after protesters shouted slogans against a British threat to storm the embassy.
On Wednesday night, Patino had reacted angrily to such a threat. He said a letter from the UK government was delivered through a British embassy official.
He said: ‘Today we received from the United Kingdom an express threat, in writing, that they might storm our Embassy in London if we don’t hand over Julian Assange.
‘Ecuador rejects in the most emphatic terms the explicit threat of the British official communication.’
He said: ‘This is unbecoming of a democratic, civilised and law-abiding state.
‘If this conduct persists, Ecuador will take appropriate responses in accordance with international law.
‘If the measure announced in the British official communication is enacted, it will be interpreted by Ecuador as an unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act and as an attempt against our sovereignty, which would require us to respond with greater diplomatic force.
‘Such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law of the past four centuries.
‘It would be a dangerous precedent because it would open the door to the violation of embassies as a declared sovereign space.
‘It would force us to respond. We are not a British colony.’
A British Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that the UK remained ‘determined’ to extradite Assange.
He said: ‘It is regrettable that the Ecuadorians have taken this step after many weeks of negotiations. We are committed to continue talking to them.
‘The best way forward is to continue to seek a negotiated settlement which allows the UK to fulfil its commitment to Sweden.’
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation, but the Foreign Office says it is allowed to revoke this status if it is being abused.
It would take seven days to implement the legal process allowing for Assange’s arrest at the embassy because the UK government would have to give notice.
Assange’s mother Christine has claimed the US is behind the latest UK intervention and called on Australia’s Attorney General to protest.
She told journalists in Australia: ‘What the US wants, the US gets from its allies, regardless if it’s legal or if it’s ethical or in breach of human or legal rights. We’re all lackeys.’
Wikileaks has condemned what it calls ‘the UK’s resort to intimidation’.
‘A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances, and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide,’ it said.