Julian Assange Granted Asylum By Ecuador In Defiance Of Britain
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño explained at a news conference in Quito that asylum had been granted “because of the fears expressed by Mr. Assange, we believe that his fears are legitimate, and there are threats that he could face political persecution if the measures aren’t taken to avoid them."
The political asylum only applies on Ecuadorean soil so even with the official granting of protection, it is unlikely he will be able to leave the embassy without being arrested, Reuters reported. The British Foreign Office said it was disappointed that asylum had been granted but remained hopeful that a diplomatic resolution could still be negotiated. Sweden called the decision "unacceptable."
Thursday's announcement is the latest move in a diplomatic showdown which has been escalating since Assange sought refuge in the embassy two months ago. British authorities originally conceded that Assange was outside the reach of law enforcement as long as he remained in the embassy. But Wednesday night, Ecuador revealed that Britian had threatened to enter the embassy under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa tweeted the response, “No one is going to terrorize us!” Patiño characterized the threat as a form of colonialism.
"We are not a British colony," Patiño said.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office insisted Britain was simply trying to comply with the law.
"Under UK law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation," the spokesman said.
Assange has been evading arrest inside the embassy since June 19 in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes. Assange has asserted that if extradited, Sweden will deliver him to the United States to face political persecution for a 2010 release of documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange's mother reacted to the announcement on Russia Today, an English-language cable channel financed by the government of Vladimir Putin. She called Ecuador's reasoning "extremely sophisticated" and praising the country as a "shining light to the world."
With police officers stationed outside the embassy, leaving Britain seems unlikely for Assange but there are some creative manuevers to circumvent British law eforcement. From the Washington Post:
Some supporters want Assange to be granted Ecuadorean citizenship and made a member of the embassy staff, so that he would be protected by diplomatic immunity. But diplomatic status must be recognized by the host government, something the British government is exceedingly unlikely to do.
Legal expert Carl Gardner has raised another long-shot possibility — Ecuador could name Assange its representative to the United Nations. That would make him immune from arrest while traveling to U.N. meetings around the world. Assange could be stripped of his role as representative by the U.N. General Assembly, but in the meantime would be protected.
Assange exhausted all of his legal options in June when Britain's Supreme Court upheld Sweden's request for extradition.
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