16 Aug 2012

Julian Assange granted asylum by Ecuador

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is granted asylum by Ecuador as the country claims the Wikileaks founder will not be granted a fair trial on sexual assault charges.

News of the asylum decision will escalate a political row with Britain, as the Foreign Office says that the UK still has a ‘legal duty’ to extradite him to Sweden, where he faces charges of sexual assault.

It comes after Ecuador’s minister for foreign affairs, Ricardo Patino, released details of a letter he said was delivered through a British embassy official in the capital of the South American country, Quito.

The letter said: “You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.

“We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange’s presence in your premises, this is an open option for us.”

It came two months after Mr Assange suddenly walked into the embassy in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden.

More than a hundred photographers and journalists have gathered outside the Ecuador embassy in London’s Knightbridge.

Police kept the pathway outside the embassy clear and arrested two protesters.

A number of officers seized a man, who was led away shouting: “You are about to start a war with Ecuador” and “You can’t arrest Julian Assange.”

Shortly afterwards another man was taken away to a police van, with fellow protesters shouting: “What are you arresting him for?”

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.

A source said they understood that the legal process under which Mr Assange could be arrested at the embassy would take seven days to implement.

Mr Patino said yesterday: “The government of Ecuador is considering a request for asylum and has carried out diplomatic talks with the governments of the United Kingdom and Sweden. However, today we received from the United Kingdom a written threat that they could attack our embassy in London if Ecuador does not give up Julian Assange.

“Ecuador, as a state that respects rights and justice and is a democratic and peaceful nation state, rejects in the strongest possible terms the explicit threat of the British official communication.

“This is unbecoming of a democratic, civilised and law-abiding state. If this conduct persists, Ecuador will take appropriate responses in accordance with international law.

“If the measures announced in the British official communication materialise they will be interpreted by Ecuador as a hostile and intolerable act and also as an attack on our sovereignty, which would require us to respond with greater diplomatic force.

‘Blatant disregard’

“Such actions would be a blatant disregard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law of the past four centuries.

“It would be a dangerous precedent because it would open the door to the violation of embassies as a declared sovereign space.”

Mr Patino said the situation affected all American states, so the government of Ecuador shall request the convening of a meeting of ministers from across the region.

He added: “The protection that Ecuador offers Mr Assange is based on universal principles and our respect for human rights and no threats of force or unilateral action towards our country will see us waive these principles.”

An Ecuadorian government spokesman said yesterday: “We are deeply shocked by the British government’s threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy.

“This a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention.

“Throughout the last 56 days Mr Julian Assange has been in the Embassy, the Ecuadorian Government has acted honourably in all our attempts to seek a resolution to the situation.

“This stands in stark contrast to the escalation of the British Government today with their threats to break down the door of the Ecuadorian Embassy.
“Instead of threatening violence against the Ecuadorian Embassy, the British Government should use its energy to find a peaceful resolution to this situation which we are aiming to achieve.”

‘Incompatible and unsustainable’

The letter to Ecuador added: “We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations.”

Mr Assange denies the allegations against him, but fears he will be sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.

An offer to the Swedish authorities by Ecuador for investigators to interview Mr Assange inside the London embassy was rejected.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman denied a threat was being made.

The spokeswoman said: “We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the government of Ecuador.

“The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfil this obligation.

“We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture.

“Throughout this process we have drawn the Ecuadorians’ attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK.

“We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.”