By Luis Cabrera
Julian Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador, two months after he took refugee in he country’s embassy in London. Mr.Assange has been fighting extradition from the U.K. to Sweden on allegations of sexual misconduct.
Ecuador is citing fears that Assange’s human rights might be violated,
but U.K’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said his country would not allow safe passage to Assange out of Ecuador’s embassy. Ricardo Patino, Ecuador Foreign Minister does not agree and says his country is seeking to negotiate with Great Britain over the releasing arrangements.
“We don’t think it reasonable that after a sovereign government makes a decision to concede asylum,” Patino said, “a citizen [benefited by it] is forced to live in an embassy for a long period.”
Mr. Assange has been staying inside Ecuador’s embassy in London over the past sixty days to avoid extradition to Sweden. He faces questioning in Stockholm on charges of sexual offenses against two female former Wikileaks volunteers. Julian Assange denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.
He thanked Ecuador for the asylum and said the granting was a “significant victory.” While citing persecution by the United States in a statement, he made a direct reference to Bradley Manning, the former U.S. soldier accused of leaking sensitive documents to Wikileaks. “Remember Manning has been detained for 800 days without a trial,” Assange said, “this unprecedented persecution must be stopped.”
However, Great Britain insisted it has a legal obligation to extradite him and said the embassy’s diplomatic status could be lifted. Patino interpreted this as an “open threat” to let London police storm Ecuador’s embassy and capture Assange.
Under international law, an embassy is considered foreign country territory.
Mr. Assange is an Australian national. In 2010, he published a mass assemblage of leaked diplomatic cables on his website that embarrassed several countries, especially the United States. Assange fears Sweden will eventually handed him to the U.S.
Ecuador has called Assange fears of political persecution “legitimate.”
In the meantime, the Swedish government reacted angrily to the assumption by Ecuador that Mr. Assange would not be given a fair trial on Sweden soil and wanted Ecuador’s ambassador to explain. “It is unacceptable to halt the Swedish judicial process and European cooperation,” said Anders Joerle, spokesman for the Swedish foreign ministry.
Julian Assange entered Ecuador’s embassy in June while on bail, after his bid to reopen an appeal to extradition failed in the U.K.’s Supreme Court. Subsequently, Ecuador offered to allow Sweden investigators question Assange inside its embassy but it was rejected.
Experts say political asylum does not equal immunity from prosecution. Whatever the outcome, the process is expected to go on for months while legal avenues are exhausted.
Although granted asylum, Julian Assange still needs safe passage through U.K.’s territory; a safe-conduct that he won’t get.