The attempt by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to avoid extradition from Britain took a dramatic turn yesterday, as he was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador.
Mr Assange is set to give a statement outside the Ecuadorean embassy on Sunday afternoon, according to tweets posted on the Wikileaks Twitter feed.
Two messages said: “ANNOUNCEMENT: Julian Assange will give a live statement in front of the Ecuadorian embassy, Sunday 2pm.
“Sunday the 19th is two months exactly since Assange entered the embassy. It will be his first public apperance (sic) since March.”
The Australian described the move as a “significant and historic victory”, but Foreign Secretary William Hague made it clear that he would not be allowed safe passage out of Britain.
Mr Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past two months after facing extradition to Sweden where he faces allegations of sexual assault. He denies the claims and fears being sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.
He watched the asylum decision being announced via a live link to a press conference from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.
The conference was watched by more than a dozen staff at the embassy in London’s Knightsbridge.
Mr Assange walked into the room and publicly thanked the staff for their support over the past few weeks.
Mr Hague said diplomatic immunity should not be used to harbour alleged criminals. He said it is a “matter of regret” that the Ecuadorian government granted the WikiLeaks founder political asylum but warned it “does not change the fundamentals” of the case.
The case could go on for some “considerable” time, Mr Hague said. “We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so.”
Mr Hague dismissed Ecuadorian claims that they had been threatened with an “attack” on their embassy: “There is no threat here to storm an embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law.”
The Foreign Secretary also denied claims by Mr Assange and his supporters that there was a deal which would see him extradited to the US: “We have no arrangement with the United States. This is the United Kingdom fulfilling its obligations under the Extradition Act to Sweden.
“We absolutely must fulfil our obligations under the Extradition Act. Therefore, we are determined to do so and we remain determined to do so despite the regrettable announcement that Ecuador has made today.”
Ecuadorian ministers earlier accused the UK of threatening to attack the embassy to seize Mr Assange, after it emerged that the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 could allow revocation of a building’s diplomatic status if the foreign power occupying it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post”.
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.
Ecuador’s foreign affairs minister, Ricardo Patino, said Mr Assange is clear that he is being persecuted for political reasons because of the disclosure of documents by WikiLeaks. His human rights are now at risk and Mr Assange fears “repression and intimidation” by countries affected by the disclosures.
“Ecuador is sure that there is a real threat of him being extradited to a third country, without any guarantees. He would be subject to cruel treatment,” Mr Patino said in his press conference in Quito.
The Ecuadorian government has conducted lengthy talks with the UK, Swedish and US governments, Mr Patino said, but they showed “no willingness” to negotiate on the issue.
Mr Assange said he is “grateful” to Ecuador and President Rafael Correa.
He has been in contact with the country’s politicians country for some time and interviewed Mr Correa in April when leader welcomed him to “the club of the persecuted”.
Last year Ecuador expelled US ambassador Heather Hodges after Wikileaks released a cable in which she suggested President Correa was aware of corruption allegations against a senior police officer he promoted.
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