August 17, 2012 Read later Stephanie Gardiner and Jessica Wright
The 41-year-old was granted asylum by the South American nation overnight with the country’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, declaring he believed Brisbane-born Assange was a ”victim of political persecution”.
Mr Patino told a news conference in Quito that should Assange be extradited from Britain to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of rape and sexual assault, there was a “clear possibility” he could then be transferred to a third country.
British police officers stand guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London after after Ecuador announced it had granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo: AAP
But the British government has declared the decision does not change its “binding obligation” to extradite Assange to Sweden.
Advertisement ”We are disappointed by the statement by Ecuador’s foreign minister that Ecuador has offered political asylum to Julian Assange,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. ”Under our law … British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden.”
The Swedish Prosecution Authority released a statement saying the case was still a matter for British authorities.
A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is arrested outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Assange is expected make his statement on Sunday, two months to the day since he first entered the Ecuador embassy seeking asylum.
WikiLeaks tweeted details of the expected appearance by its reclusive founder overnight: ”Julian Assange will give a live statement in front of the Ecuadorian embassy, Sunday 2pm (London time).
”Sunday the 19th is two months exactly since Assange entered the embassy. It will be his first public appearance since March.”
A member of Assange’s defence team has said the Australian will appeal to the International Court of Justice if Britain attempts to blocks his exit to Ecuador.
Assange and his supporters believe he is at risk from deportation from Sweden to the US, which might seek to convict him for his website’s release of secret official documents.
“The Ecuadorian government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us have decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange … because of the fears expressed by Mr Assange. We believe that his fears are legitimate,” Mr Patino said.
Ecuador has found that Assange is without protection and assistance that he should be receiving from the state from which he is a citizen.
The evidence “backs up Julian Assange’s fears that he is a victim of political persecution as a result of his determined defense for freedom of expression and a free press”.
Explaining Ecuador’s decision, Mr Patino said that if Assange were extradited to the US, “he would not face a fair trial”.
He added: “He could face a military trial or a special trial … he could face the death penalty.”
During a lengthy press conference, Mr Patino gave details about the months of talks Ecuador had with the US, Britain and Sweden over Assange’s fate.
He said the Swedish and British governments had refused to give a guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to a third country.
Mr Patino was also scathing of the British government’s threat to arrest Assange while he remained in Ecuador’s London embassy.
“It’s basically saying we are going to beat you savagely if you don’t behave,” he said.
Britain has told Ecuador that under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 it has the power to rescind the diplomatic status of the embassy, thereby allowing British police to enter and arrest Assange for breaching his bail. It is not clear if the act has been used before in this way.
A WikiLeaks statement said: “Any transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and shameful act.”
A spokesman for Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said the asylum decision was a matter for Mr Assange and the governments of Ecuador and the UK.
”Australia’s role remains unchanged. Mr Assange remains in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and we have and will continue to make regular contact with embassy staff to check on his welfare and offer him consular assistance,” he said.
Opposition Leader Tony said this morning Assange should be subject to British law like any other citizen.
”Whatever the ordinary law of Britain is, whatever would happen to anyone else in the same circumstances, Julian Assange should get identical treatment to anyone else in a similar position,” Mr Abbott told the Nine Network.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the WikiLeaks founder had been left with no choice but to seek refuge with Ecuadorians after the Australian government had failed to provide him with proper protection from ”persecution”.
”What the Ecuadorian government has done in effect is offer Julian Assange the protection that the Australian government has failed to do,” Greens senator Scott Ludlam said late last night.
”Senator Carr should standing up here with me tonight side-by-side announcing the actions that Australia should be taking.”
Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who is advising Mr Assange’s defence team, says the Australian government should help end the international stand-off.
‘‘The Ecuadorians have been questioning the Americans, the Swedes and the British but the obvious country, the country of Mr Assange’s nationality, hasn’t been involved,’’ he told ABC TV on Friday.
‘‘So it may be an opportunity for Australia to get involved on behalf of its national and see if it can square this circle.’’
Mr Robertson said well-intentioned people wanted Mr Assange to face the allegations in Sweden as long as there wasn’t a risk he’d be transferred to the US.
He said if Australia could obtain an ‘‘undertaking’’ from Sweden that once it had dealt with him he’d be free to return to Australia he was sure Mr Assange would have faith in the Australian courts regarding a subsequent extradition request by the US.
The WikiLeaks founder himself took a swipe at Australia after watching the decision being announced via a live link to a news conference from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.
‘‘It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution but a courageous, independent Latin American nation,’’ Mr Assange said.
The Ecuadorian government was also quick to criticise Canberra, noting that ‘‘Mr Assange is without the due protection and help that he should receive from any state of which he is a citizen’’.
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