Ecuador asks UK if Julian Assange would be allowed to seek medical treatment
AFP September 27, 2012 11:46PM
ECUADOR has asked Britain whether fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be permitted to leave his London hideout for medical treatment.
The query comes as the two countries met to seek to end a deadlock over the activist’s fate.
Assange has sheltered inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, beyond the reach of British police, since June 19 – a total of 100 days.
He is seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sex crimes allegations.
Though Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, if he steps outside the building he will be arrested to be flown to Sweden.
In talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, asked his counterpart whether the UK would potentially allow Assange to receive medical care without risking arrest.
Assange appeared pale and sounded hoarse in an appearance via videolink to a meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
However, British officials said Mr Patino insisted there was no immediate concern about Assange’s health.
Britain pledged to consider the request and deliver an answer later – but reminded Mr Patino that Britain was obliged under international law to deport Assange for questioning over the rape and sexual misconduct allegations.
Mr Patino says Ecuador granted Assange asylum because it accepts his fear that the Swedish sex case is simply part of a US plot to put him on trial in the US over his work with WikiLeaks.
Supporters of Assange claim he could face harsh conditions, or even the death penalty.
Mr Hague told Mr Patino that British extradition law includes extensive human rights safeguards.
“He requested the government of Ecuador to study these provisions closely in considering the way ahead,” a spokesman for Mr Hague said.
“Both ministers agreed that they were committed to the search for a diplomatic solution to Mr Assange’s case,” he said.
Mr Patino and Mr Hague are likely to meet again in the next two months to discuss the case.
Meanwhile, British rights group Amnesty International urged Sweden to give Assange assurances that it will not extradite him to the US if he goes to Stockholm for questioning.
Assange denies sexually assaulting two Swedish women and claims the allegations are a politically motivated attempt to secure his eventual extradition to the US. The WikiLeaks website deeply embarrassed the US government by publishing huge caches of confidential documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world.
Assange supporters claim he could receive harsh treatment if sent to the United States and possibly even face the death penalty.
On Thursday – Assange’s 100th day inside the embassy – Amnesty said it was “time to break the impasse”.
“If the Swedish authorities are able to confirm publicly that Assange will not eventually find himself on a plane to the USA if he submits himself to the authority of the Swedish courts then this will hopefully achieve two things,” said Nicola Duckworth, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty.
“First, it will break the current impasse and second it will mean the women who have levelled accusations of sexual assault are not denied justice.”
She added: “While Amnesty International has no evidence that Sweden plans to extradite Assange to the USA it seems evident that fears about such an outcome have played no small part in the current stand-off.
“Amnesty International believes that the forced transfer of Julian Assange to the USA in the present circumstances would expose him to a real risk of serious human rights violations.”
Sweden said last month that it was up to the US to give Assange the guarantees he has sought from Stockholm.
Assange himself, meanwhile, called on the United States to halt its “persecution” of WikiLeaks, in a video message from the embassy to the UN headquarters in New York.