Saturday 17 August 2019

Julian Assange: Ecuadorean embassy extends 'generous welcome' to WikiLeaks founder

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo: PA
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo: PA

Donna Bowater

JULIAN Assange is in 'good spirits' and has received a 'generous and welcoming' reception from the Ecuadorean embassy where he is seeking asylum, a friend said today.

The WikiLeaks founder is currently holed up at the embassy in talks with his lawyers in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crime allegations.

However Scotland Yard said Assange had breached his bail conditions by entering the embassy and he faces being re-arrested.

A number of friends and high-profile supporters posted £240,000 bail for Mr Assange, including film firector Ken Loach, filmaker Michael Moore, investigative journalist John Pilger and Jemima Khan, who could now lose their money.

Asked whether she was "on the hook" for his breach of bail, Khan replied on Twitter: "Yes. I had expected him to face the allegations. I am as surprised as anyone by this."

The 40 year-old Australian founder of WikiLeaks is due to be extradited in the next couple of days.

Today his friend Gavin Macfadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, said Assange was 'in good humour' although he was still unsure of whether his asylum bid would be successful.

Speaking outside the embassy, investigative journalist Mr Macfadyen said: "He is fine. He is in very good humour and very grateful for the hospitality of the embassy which has been very generous and welcoming.

"There will be a statement in time. He explained to me why he took the step of visiting the embassy but I want to leave that for him to say.

"There are big issues involved in this case. What is being done to Julian is not just. This is all to do with his security as a person against major attempts to 'bring him to justice.'

"He is in good spirits, but I have no idea what chance he has of getting asylum. At the minute he is in a meeting with his lawyers."

Mr Assange entered the embassy in Knightsbridge and requested asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration yesterday afternoon.

He stayed overnight while his application was being processed but in doing so, has breached one of his bail conditions and is now subject to arrest under the Bail Act.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "One of the conditions was that he was supposed to be at a named bail address between 10pm and 8am, and it was 10.20pm that we were notified that he had breached that particular condition."

It is believed discussions were taking place at diplomatic level this morning to move the matter on.

The founder of the whistle–blowing website, accused his government of “effectively abandoning” him and “ignoring the obligation to protect its citizen, who is persecuted politically".

His dramatic move came after he lost a long-running legal bid earlier this month to halt his extradition to Sweden, where he is accused of the sex attacks by two former volunteers.

Officials from the South American nation were considering his request and said Mr Assange would remain “under the protection” of the Ecuadorian embassy in central London in the meantime.

It comes after Ecuador offered Mr Assange residency in the country in November 2010.

In a statement, Mr Assange said: “I can confirm that today I arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum.

“This application has been passed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital Quito.

"I am grateful to the Ecuadorian ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application."

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that officials were seriously considering the request after Mr Assange wrote to President Rafael Correa saying he was being persecuted.

"Ecuador is studying and analysing the request," he said from Quito.

He said that Mr Assange had argued that "the authorities in his country will not defend his minimum guarantees in front of any government or ignore the obligation to protect a politically persecuted citizen”.

He said it was impossible for him to return to his homeland because it would not protect him from being extradited to "a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition".

A statement issued on behalf of the embassy said: "While the department assesses Mr Assange's application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian Government."

"The decision to consider Mr Assange's application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.

"In order to reach a proper decision in line with international law on Mr Assange's application, the Ecuadorian government will be seeking the views of the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States of America.”

While officials had earlier offered him asylum, but backed off the move, it remains unclear why Mr Assange opted for Ecuador as the country has an extradition treaty to the United States.

Last month Mr Assange interviewed the country's President as part of his new television series The World Tomorrow.

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