15 Aug 2012

Ecuador expected to grant asylum to Julian Assange

The Ecuador government is expected to grant asylum to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, almost two months after he arrived at the South American country’s embassy seeking refuge.

Julian Assange has spent almost two months in the Ecuadorian embassy

Reports in the Guardian suggest that the country’s president Rafael Correa has agreed to Mr Assange’s asylum request, which he made in order to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sex crime allegations.

As well as deciding Mr Assange’s asylum claim, the Ecuadorian government has been working out how he would escape arrest in the United Kingdom should he head to South America, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Tuesday.

Travel concerns

The former computer hacker, who enraged Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, has said that he fears he could be sent to the United States, where he believes his life would be at risk.

Mr Patino, who has led Ecuador’s analysis of the case, said the Andean country was also looking at how the 41-year-old Australian might travel to Ecuador if he is granted asylum.

“Beyond the international treaties, the right to asylum etc, and the autonomy or sovereignty the national government has to take a decision of this nature, we have to look at what will happen next,” he said.

“It’s not only about whether to grant the asylum, because for Mr Assange to leave England he should have a safe pass from the British. Will that be possible? That’s an issue we have to take into account.”

Assange is in breach of his British bail conditions and the police have said he is liable to arrest if he steps out of the embassy in London’s Knightsbridge area.

Safe passage

It appears unlikely that the British government would give Assange safe passage to an airport as that would mean going against the Swedish arrest warrant and a supreme court ruling that the warrant was valid.

Mr Patino reiterated that Assange’s grounds to request political asylum are that he thinks he is being politically prosecuted and that he fears that from Sweden he will be extradited onwards to the United States.

“We’re analyzing the weight, the veracity of that information,” Mr Patino said.

Assange has not been charged with any offence in Sweden or in the United States. Swedish prosecutors want to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two WikiLeaks supporters in 2010. Assange says he had consensual sex with the women.