Ecuador has granted asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange two months after he took refuge in its London embassy while fighting extradition from the UK on 16.08.2012.
It said his human rights might be violated if he is sent to Sweden to be questioned over sex assault claims.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the country and the move was also criticised by Stockholm.
Ecuador said it would seek to negotiate arrangements for Mr Assange to leave.
“We don’t think it is reasonable that, after a sovereign government has made the decision of granting political asylum, a citizen is forced to live in an embassy for a long period,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said.
Mr Assange took refuge at the embassy in June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over assault and rape claims, which he denies.
Mr Patino had accused the UK of making an “open threat” to enter its embassy to arrest Mr Assange, an Australian national.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino: “We believe that his fears are legitimate”
Mr Assange said being granted political asylum by Ecuador was a “significant victory” and thanked staff in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
However, as the Foreign Office insisted the decision would not affect the UK’s legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden, Mr Assange warned: “Things will get more stressful now.”
“It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation,” said Mr Assange, who watched the announcement with embassy staff in a live link to a press conference in Quito.
“While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented US investigation against Wikileaks must be stopped.
Announcing Ecuador’s decision, Mr Patino launched a strong attack on the UK for what he said was an “explicit type of blackmail”.
The UK Foreign Office had warned, in a note, that it could lift the embassy’s diplomatic status to fulfil a “legal obligation” to extradite the 41-year-old by using the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.
That allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of an embassy on UK soil, which would potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Mr Assange for breaching the terms of his bail.
Mr Hague said it was a “matter of regret” that the Ecuadorean government decided to grant Mr Assange political asylum but warned that it “does not change the fundamentals” of the case.
He also warned that it could drag on for some “considerable” time.
“We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so,” he said.
“We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law,” he said.
Mr Patino said Ecuador believed Mr Assange’s fears of political persecution were “legitimate” and said his country was being loyal to its tradition of protecting those who were vulnerable.
Sweden summons ambassador
The Swedish government reacted angrily to Mr Patino’s suggestion that Mr Assange would not be treated fairly by its justice system, summoning Ecuador’s ambassador to explain.
“The accusations… are serious, and it is unacceptable that Ecuador would want to halt the Swedish judicial process and European judicial co-operation,” said Anders Joerle, spokesman for the Swedish foreign ministry.
The Organisation of American States called a special meeting at its Washington headquarters on 16.08.2012 to discuss the Ecuador-UK relationship, specifically Ecuador’s diplomatic premises in the UK.
Mr Assange entered the embassy after the UK’s Supreme Court dismissed his bid to reopen his appeal against extradition and gave him a two-week grace period before extradition proceedings could start.
It was during that fortnight, while on bail, that he sought refuge.
A subsequent offer by Ecuador to allow Swedish investigators to interview Mr Assange inside the embassy was rejected.
The Wikileaks website Mr Assange founded published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments, particularly that of the US, in 2010. Mr Assange says he fears that if extradited to Sweden, he will then be passed on to the American authorities.
In 2010, two female ex-Wikileaks volunteers accused Mr Assange of committing sexual offences against them while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture. Mr Assange claims the sex was consensual and the allegations are politically motivated.
Why the dare devilry by Ecuador?
One unanswered question on most observers’ minds at this time was why Ecuador has decided to grant political asylum to Mr. Assange especially when doing so would risk jeopardising its ties with nations that it considers important allies and trading partners, including the U.S., the U.K.,Sweden and Australia.
A host of possible justifications for the Ecuadorian action have been suggested, including notions that the country’s President, Rafael Correa, may be seeking to show himself a champion of free speech, or to embarrass the US, or to thrust himself onto the global stage as a fearless leader.
However as Mark Weisbrot of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research has argued, Mr.Correa “didn’t want this mess and it has been a lose-lose situation for him from the beginning,” given the escalation in tensions that he has suffered the US, UK and Sweden since Mr. Assange sought asylum at the embassy on June 19, 2012.
Mr. Weisbrot and others have pointed out that the U.S. is Ecuador’s largest trading partner and has several times threatened to cut off trade preferences that support thousands of Ecuadorian jobs.
However what Ecuador’s own explanatory note on the decision to grant Mr. Assange asylum suggests is that Mr. Correa’s government made the decision based on a careful consideration of the facts in the case, including shortcomings in the procedures followed by the prosecution regarding sexual assault charges that he faces in Sweden, and the balance of ethical considerations.
Of particular salience to Ecuador’s support for Mr. Assange is the fact that Mr. Assange’s legal team have on several occasions offered to provide Swedish authorities with access to Mr.Assange on the premises of Ecuador’s London embassy, in order for them to interrogate him and take formal statements for the case.
“This measure is perfect and legally possible. Sweden did not accept,” Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry noted, adding that the U.S. had similarly refused to clarify its position on the Assange case, “saying it is a bilateral matter between Ecuador and the United Kingdom.
Thus the facts that ultimately tilted Ecuador toward granting asylum to Mr. Assange included the consideration that “there is strong evidence of retaliation by the country or countries that produced the information disclosed by Mr. Assange, retaliation that may endanger their safety, integrity, and even his life.”
Dream Dare Win