Friday 20 April 2018

WikiLeaks Julian Assange: Decision expected today on asylum bid to Ecuador

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

WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange spent a second night at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London amid reports that a decision on his request for political asylum will be made today.

The 40-year-old Australian has been inside the building in Knightsbridge since Tuesday afternoon, when he went there to request political asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.



Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, will make a decision on Mr Assange's application later today, the country's deputy foreign minister Marco Albuja told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.



Last night Mr Albuja said: "We still can't make a final decision public yet until tomorrow.



"The national government is considering its position and the president will give us his instructions tomorrow."



Mr Assange faces arrest for breaching the terms of his bail if he leaves the Ecuadorian Embassy.



The South American country, whose UK ambassador Anna Alban met the Government yesterday morning, says he is under its protection while it considers the application, which comes after his failed bid to avoid extradition to Sweden under a European arrest warrant to face sex crime allegations.



The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) confirmed in a statement that he was "beyond the reach of the police" while he remains in the building.



Ms Alban said she held "cordial and constructive" talks with the Government at the FCO.



"I welcome the statement from the UK Government in which they stated that they would work with the Ecuadorian government to find a resolution," she said in a statement.



"I also took the opportunity to explain that the decision on Mr Assange's application would be assessed by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Quito and would take into account Ecuador's long and well established tradition in supporting human rights.



"I also emphasised to the UK Government that it was not the intention of the Ecuadorian government to interfere with the processes of either the UK or Swedish governments.



"I have made clear that I will make myself available to meet with the UK Government's representatives at any time so that we can find a just and fair solution to this situation."



The Swedish Ministry of Justice issued a statement saying: "We have noted that Mr Assange seeks asylum. The European arrest warrant is valid. We assume that Britain will carry out the decision made by their Supreme Court."



The Metropolitan Police said it had been told at 10.20pm on Tuesday that Mr Assange had breached a condition of the £200,000 bail imposed by the High Court, that he stay at a bail address between 10pm and 8am.



"He is now subject to arrest under the Bail Act for breach of these conditions," a police spokeswoman said.



"Officers are aware of his location at the Ecuador Embassy in Hans Crescent, London."



Several high-profile figures have supported Mr Assange since his arrest in December 2010, including film director Ken Loach and socialite and charity fundraiser Jemima Khan, who each offered £20,000 as surety. Other supporters included Bianca Jagger and veteran left-winger Tony Benn.



Ms Khan voiced her surprise at his move, writing on Twitter: "I had expected him to face the allegations. I am as surprised as anyone by this."



Ms Jagger wrote on Twitter: "I would like to set the record straight. I didn't post bail for Julian Assange."



A small group of protesters arrived at the embassy in Knightsbridge shortly after noon yesterday, waving placards that read "Free Assange, No Rendition" and "Free Assange, No Extradition", and a large sign reading: "Free Assange! Free Manning! End The Wars."



Gavin Macfadyen, from the Centre for Investigative Journalism at City University, who emerged from the embassy shortly after noon yesterday, said of Mr Assange: "He is fine, he is in very good humour and grateful for the hospitality of the embassy.



"He is meeting with the lawyers now to discuss all of it.



"It's a very fluid situation, he is in good humour and the generosity of the embassy is impressive and moving."



Mr Assange's move to claim asylum is the latest twist in a marathon legal battle played out in the glare of worldwide publicity.



He is set to be extradited to Sweden, where he faces accusations of raping a woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August 2010 while on a visit to give a lecture.



Mr Assange, whose WikiLeaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, says the sex was consensual and the allegations against him are politically motivated.



Last month the Supreme Court upheld a High Court ruling made in November last year that his extradition was legal. Last week the same court refused an attempt by him to reopen his appeal against extradition, saying it was "without merit".



He had until June 28 to ask European judges in Strasbourg to consider his case and postpone extradition on the basis that he has not had a fair hearing from the UK courts.



In a short statement on Tuesday night, 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."



A statement issued on behalf of the Ecuadorian Embassy on Tuesday said Mr Assange would remain there while his request was considered.



Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, told a press conference in the South American country that Mr Assange wrote to the country's president, Rafael Correa, saying he was being persecuted and was seeking asylum.



He told the press conference the Australian 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 added that Mr Assange wrote that he could not return to his home country because it would not block his extradition to "a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition".

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