16 Aug 2012

Foreign Office: We will extradite Assange

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

The Foreign Office says it will extradite Julian Assange despite Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to the WikiLeaks founder, after he took refuge in the country’s embassy in London.

Mr Assange sought sanctuary in the embassy in Knightsbridge in an effort to avoid deportation to Sweden, where he faces questions over alleged sexual assault.

Ecuadorian ministers have accused the UK of threatening to “attack” the embassy to seize Mr Assange after it emerged that a 1987 law could allow the revocation of a building’s diplomatic status if the foreign power occupying it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post”.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was a “matter of regret” that the Ecuadorian government decided to grant Mr Assange political asylum but warned that it “does not change the fundamentals” of the case.

We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so. William Hague

Speaking at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he also warned that the case could go on for some “considerable” time.

Mr Hague said: “We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so.”

“We would not agree to safe passage to someone granted asylum in these circumstances,” he explained.

“It could (go on for months or years). It is, above all, a difficulty for Ecuador and for Mr Assange but this is a strange position for an embassy to be in this position.

“Diplomatic immunity exists to allow embassies and diplomats to exercise proper diplomatic functions and the harbouring of alleged criminals, or frustrating the due legal process in a country, is not a permitted function.

“We will continue to work at it to try to bring [about] a solution.”

Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.

The Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987
The Foreign Office says the law permits the revocation of diplomatic status of a building if the foreign power occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post".
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.

Watched live

The news was seen live by Mr Assange and embassy staff in a link to a press conference from Quito.

Mr Patino said the Ecuadorian government had conducted lengthy diplomatic talks with the UK, Swedish and US governments.

None could give the guarantees about Mr Assange’s future that the South American country was seeking and had shown “no willingness” to negotiate on the issue.

US authorities were specifically asked if they had any intention to seek Mr Assange’s extradition so they could start legal proceedings against him and what maximum penalty he could face.

“The response from the United States has been that it cannot offer any guarantees. With these precedents in mind the Ecuadorian government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us and in our diplomatic mission, have decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange.”

Mr Patino called for Mr Assange to be guaranteed “safe passage” to leave the embassy but the Foreign Office insisted this would not be offered.