Ecuador grants asylum to WikiLeaks founder
(CNN) — Ecuador has granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño announced Thursday.
The UK, meanwhile, has said it will not grant safe passage out of the country to Assange, who has been holed up inside Ecuador’s embassy in London.
In a televised address Wednesday, Patiño said that the Ecuadorian government had received a written notice from British authorities that they would “assault” the country’s embassy in London if Ecuadoran authorities failed to hand over Assange to British authorities.
“We are not a British colony,” he said. “Those times are passed.”
In response, a spokesperson for Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said “The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offenses and we… remain determined to fulfill this obligation.”
The spokesperson added, “We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.”
WikiLeaks condemned the British stance in a statement released early Thursday.
“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,” the statement said.
There has been a small but growing British police presence outside the Ecuadoran embassy in London.
But the Foreign Office Thursday said the number of officers there was small.
“There is more police presence outside the British embassy in Quito” than at the Ecuadoran mission in London, the Foreign Office said.
Assange has been holed up there since petitioning for asylum in June. He is seeking to avoid being sent to Sweden over claims of rape and sexual molestation, and said he fears that if extradited, Swedish authorities could hand him over to the United States.
Assange was arrested in Britain in 2010 because Swedish authorities wanted to question him about the allegations. Two women have accused Assange of sexually assaulting them during an August 2010 visit to Sweden in connection with a WikiLeaks release of internal U.S. military documents. Assange denies the allegations and argues they are retribution for his organization’s disclosure of American secrets.
His bail conditions required he spend his nights at the home of a supporter outside London. He is subject to arrest for breaking the terms of his bail, London’s Metropolitan Police said the day after he entered the embassy.
WikiLeaks has published about 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, causing embarrassment to the U.S. government and others. It also has published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents relating to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange sought refuge at the embassy five days after the Supreme Court in Britain dismissed his bid to reopen his appeal of the decision to send him to Sweden, his last option in British courts.