WikiLeaks Julian Assange will be arrested regardless of asylum bid
JULIAN Assange faces arrest regardless of whether or not Ecuador grants him political asylum, and could end up behind bars for years while he continues to fight extradition.
The WikiLeaks founder has spent the past two nights holed up in the South American country’s London embassy, in an attempt to avoid being sent to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes.
But experts and authorities believe that even if Ecuador were to grant him asylum, he would face arrest the minute he walked out of the Knightsbridge building because he has breached his bail conditions.
He is meant to remain at a bail address in Tunbridge Wells between 10pm and 8am every night while his appeals continue.
If he were judged to be a flight risk, he could end up in jail until he exhausts his options for avoiding extradition. And if he takes his case to the European Court of Human Rights, the process could drag on for years.
Mr Assange, a 40 year-old Australian, cannot be given diplomatic immunity by Ecuador as conferred on other embassy staff, because the Foreign Office would not approve the application.
And even if he were made an Ecuadorian citizen or granted asylum, he would still be liable to be arrested on departure from the embassy.
Last night in an interview from inside the embassy, Mr Assange accused Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard of “slimy rhetoric” and acused Swedish authorities of failing to respect his human rights.
“The situation for me here in the United Kingdom has been extremelly precarious and the refusal by the Swedish prosecutor to come to the UK for the past 18 months... and the refusal of her to explain it in any matter whatsoever to the British courts has kept me trapped in the United Kingdom,” he told ABC Radio Australia.
“The Swedes announced publicly, that they would detain me, in prison, without charge while they continued their so-called investigation.”
He dismissed repeated claims from her government that he had been receiving ongoing consular assistance.
“I haven’t met with anyone from the Australian High Commission since December 2010,” he said.
Explaining why he chose Ecuador, he added: “We had heard that the Ecuadoreans were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the struggles of the organisation with the United States.
“We are in a position to draw attention to what is happening. The Department of Justice in the United States has been playing a little game, and that little game is that they refuse to confirm or deny the existence of a grand jury. We are hoping what I am doing now will draw attention to the underlying issues.”
Hours earlier, speaking on the steps, a policeman told reporters: “I am not aware of any agreements which would allow him safe passage out of the UK.”
Scotland Yard confirmed: “A successful asylum bid does not change the fact that he has breached his bail conditions.”
One legal expert, the former government lawyer Carl Gardner, suggested that Mr Assange could try becoming Ecuador’s representative to the United Nations as a way to escape the country.
He wrote on Twitter: “It's hard to think how Assange could leave the embassy, escape arrest and get on a plane. Except as Ecuador's new representative to the UN.
The embassy, in a six-storey Victorian building, is only accessible by a front and side door that are monitored by police, so it is unlikely he could leave without being spotted.
Another option would be for him to remain in the embassy indefinitely.
The Foreign Office declined to comment on the possible ways by which Mr Assange could evade arrest.
The maverick journalist and former computer hacker is responsible for the leaking of thousands of sensitive US diplomatic cables and military files, and fears he will be extradited to America by Sweden.
His bid for refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy on Tuesday surprised his high-profile supporters – including Jemima Khan, Ken Loach and Michael Moore – and they are likely to lose the total of £240,000 bail bond they put up for him when he was first arrested in 2010.
The President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, was expected to give instructions on the WikiLeaks founder's application late on Thursday or the following day.
Mr Assange is thought to have chosen Ecuador as a place of refuge as it previously offered him residency, and after interviewing the president last month.
However the cables leaked by Mr Assange’s whistle-blowing website also disclosed the country’s poor human rights record.