Will WikiLeaks founder Assange go free?
Ecuador's government offered asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, on Thursday. But the British government will not allow him safe passage out of their country where he's been living in the Ecuadorian embassy for the past 60 days.
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Shortly after the Andean nation granted Assange asylum Thursday, UK authorities said he would not be allowed to leave Ecuador’s London embassy, where he has been holed up for 60 days.
The controversial free-speech advocate, whose website has rattled governments and industries, took refuge in the red brick building June 19 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he’s wanted on allegations of sexual misconduct.
On Thursday, Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said he shared Assange’s fear that Sweden may send him to the United States where he said he would likely face “persecution” and “human rights violations” on espionage charges.
But Assange’s newly acquired refugee status left UK authorities unmoved.
“Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden,” the Foreign Office said in a statement. “We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadoran Government’s decision (Thursday) does not change that.”
The impasse likely means that Assange will remain confined in the embassy for days or weeks, until an agreement is hammered out, legal experts said.
“The way out of this would be for the United States to clearly and unequivocally say they would not seek to extradite him and not seek to indict him,” said Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents WikiLeaks and Assange in the United States. “But I think that’s unlikely to happen.”
Ecuador said it had tried to win assurances that Assange would not be sent to a third country. It also said Sweden had turned down an offer to question Assange at the embassy.
On Wednesday, Patino warned that British authorities might be tiring of diplomacy. He said UK authorities had informed him that they were entitled to raid the embassy to detain Assange.
“It’s a clear and offensive attack” on Ecuador’s right to provide asylum, Patino said, “free of coercion, pressure or manipulation of any kind.”
Ecuador has summoned the Union of South American Nations and the eight-nation ALBA bloc of countries, led by Venezuela and Cuba, to discuss the crisis. The Organization of American States called an emergency meeting Thursday.