The government of Ecuador has granted political asylum to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, the country’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño announced today. The decision comes two months after Assange sought refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden.
“The Ecuador government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us at our diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange,” said Patiño during a news conference.
The U.K. government has so far rejected Ecuador’s request to provide safe passage to Assange, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden regarding alleged sexual assault of two women in August 2010. He has not been formally charged with any crime. Assange denies the allegations, and asserts that the sexual assault case is thinly disguised retribution for WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, which revealed secret information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other details about American relations with other countries.
“We are disappointed by the statement from Ecuador’s Foreign Minister that Ecuador has offered political asylum to Julian Assange. 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. We shall carry out that obligation,” the U.K.’s Foreign Office tweeted.
The Foreign Office added that, while the Ecuadorian government’s decision “does not change” it’s obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden, the U.K. government remains “committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act.”
WikiLeaks maintains that the U.K. is obligated to honor Ecuador’s asylum under the Vienna Convention, and failure to do so would be a hostile act against Ecuador and the rights of asylum seekers the world over.
“Any transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies worldwide,” said WikiLeaks in a statement. “This threat is designed to preempt Ecuador’s imminent decision on whether it will grant Julian Assange political asylum, and to bully Ecuador into a decision that is agreeable to the United Kingdom and its allies.”
While London police would be within their rights to arrest Assange the moment he steps foot outside Ecuador’s embassay, a number of options remain for his escape, reports Al Jazeera. Ecuador could designate Assange an official Ecuadorian diplomat, which would potentially shield him from arrest; however, the Metropolitan Police have arrested diplomats in the past. Assange could also possibly be smuggled out of the country in a “diplomatic bag,” which are used to transport sensitive items, like guns and drugs. Finally, Assange could just remain at the embassy indefinitely.