Assange asylum bid: UK 'threatens to assault' Ecuador embassy in London

Assange asylum bid: UK 'threatens to assault' Ecuador embassy in London

Summary: As Ecuador prepares to announce its decision regarding Julian Assange's asylum request, a 'threat' from the UK authorities to physically remove him from the country's London embassy has sparked a full-blown diplomatic incident

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TOPICS: Security, Censorship
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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's temporary residency in Ecuador's London embassy has sparked a serious diplomatic incident, with Ecuador claiming UK authorities are preparing to 'assault' the building.

Julian Assange
Julian Assange

Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño said late on Wednesday that the UK had threatened to storm the embassy, which is in the well-heeled London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge. He added that his country would announce its decision regarding the asylum request on Thursday.

Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden over two women's allegations of sexual coercion and rape, and the UK is supposed to extradite him to that country under European Arrest Warrant rules.

The Wikileaks founder insists that the allegations are politically motivated, and says he would be deported from Sweden to the US, where he may face charges over the Cablegate leaks that severely embarrassed the US government. After spending roughly a year and a half under house arrest, he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, pleading for asylum.

Patiño said at a Quito press conference on Wednesday that Ecuador had "received from the United Kingdom the express threat in writing that they could assault [Ecuador's] embassy in London if Ecuador didn't hand over Julian Assange".

"We want to make this absolutely clear: we are not a colony of Britain and colonial times have finished," the minister continued. "Finally, I want to tell you, the Ecuadorian government has made a decision about Mr Assange's request for political asylum, and this will be announced tomorrow morning at seven o'clock [1pm BST] in this same place."

'No immediate storming'

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) told ZDNet on Thursday morning that the written document in question was an aide-mémoire left by British diplomats after meeting with Patiño, summarising what had been said during that encounter.

An FCO spokesman said the British diplomats had "expressed concern" that recent reports suggested Ecuador was to grant Assange asylum. That was likely a reference to a Guardian article on Tuesday that suggested this would happen.

"We explained we were under a legal obligation under the European Arrest Warrant to extradite [Assange]," the spokesman said. "We made them aware that the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act existed and that was an option that was available to us, but we did not want to use it."

The act in question would supposedly allow the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of Ecuador's London embassy. The FCO spokesman said the UK would have to give at least a week's notice for this to happen, and "it wouldn't be an immediate storming of the embassy". However, he said no such decision had been taken yet.

If Ecuador were to grant Assange asylum, the spokesman explained, that would still not stop him being arrested as soon as he steps outside the embassy's doors. "They could ask us for safe passage and we would decline," he said.

'Intimidation'

There have been various theories circulating among legal observers about how Assange might be spirited out of the country. One was that Ecuador could appoint him as a diplomat, giving him enough immunity to get to a plane, but the FCO spokesman said this was impossible as the UK would have to give its permission for such an appointment.

"Let's be clear, he's not going to leave the embassy without being arrested" — FCO

"Let's be clear, he's not going to leave the embassy without being arrested," the spokesman said. "He can stay in the embassy for as long as our patience will allow, or he can walk out of the embassy and be arrested."

"He's accused of serious sexual assault in Sweden — there's no question about the US. Ultimately, there are two women that were allegedly victims of crimes that he committed, and he should face justice."

In its own statement, Wikileaks said the Ecuadorian embassy was "surrounded by police, in a menacing show of force".

"Wikileaks condemns in the strongest possible terms the UK's resort to intimidation. A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances, and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide," the organisation said, adding that Assange had not been charged with any crime.

The organisation also noted that the incident had flared up while UK foreign secretary William Hague was in charge, during the vacations of David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

"Mr Hague's department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has overseen the negotiations to date with Ecuador in the matter of Mr Assange's asylum bid," Wikileaks said. "If Mr Hague has, as would be expected, approved this decision, Wikileaks calls for his immediate resignation."

Topics: Security, Censorship

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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9 comments
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  • Wow

    Someone must really want this guy. I still think he is a sleazy jerk, but this sounds so Putin-like...
    kirovs@...
  • A conspiracy theory that is true.

    In essence the crimes are that he didn't use condom. Whatever the opinion one may have on this guy, there is hardly anything to charge him with in these cases or any proof. He isn't even charged, they want him for questioning. It is about Wikileaks no matter what anyone says.
    raggi
    • Or he's guilty of rape as accused.

      There have been accusations of rape and their is at least a possability that the charges are true. Assange needs to face his accusers - it has become a legal as well as a moral requirement.

      Ecuador needs to recognize it's legal obligations under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act. Nobody forced Ecuador to open an Embassy in London but by doing so, and keeping the Embassy in place, they were signaling that they would comply with local diplomatic statutes.
      kyron.gustafson@...
      • Depends on definition

        I am in no way defending this guy or his actions, but the accusations seem to be about what I wrote above, the actions were allegedly otherwise consentual. New have been inaccurate, but that seems to the case. There have also been accusations, recarding certain statement from one of the women, which makes the case even more suspicious and even less likely to get Assange convicted. I find it otherwise plausible that the women are telling the truth regarding their experience with Assange, but that doesn't make the case less strange. The strangeness lies in the events and resiliency of getting Assange, afterwards.
        raggi
      • Re: Or he's guilty of rape as accused.

        He hasn't actually been charged with anything. Swedish prosecutors just want to question him--or so they say. Yet they refuse to go to the UK to do it, they want him to go to Sweden. And when asked for an undertaking that they won't then ship him off to the US to face further charges there (not that any indictments have been made public), for some reason they refuse to do that, too. If there are no charges pending against him from the US, why not give that assurance?
        ldo17
  • An alternative ...

    which would spread the blame a bit, would be to get NATO to storm Ecuador's embassy in London.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Nah...

      ...It would be easier for the Government to simply advise Queen Elizabeth break diplomatic relations with Ecuador and order the embassy closed and its personnel (excluding Mr. Assange, who does not enjoy diplomatic immunity) to leave. Heads of state have that authority under international law.
      John L. Ries
      • I miss being able to edit

        It's nice to be able to correct typos.
        John L. Ries
      • It's not like...

        ...there's a huge downside to this from the British point of view. Ecuador doesn't have a lot of international clout, and Venezuela (for all of its president's bluster) has almost none outside of South America.
        John L. Ries