Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, has said he expects to respond to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s application for political asylum some time this week.
“We expect to have a meeting on Wednesday [with Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino] and I hope to make an announcement before the end of the week,” the leftist leader said in an interview with public broadcaster ECTV late on Monday.
“We have to review the process in Sweden,” Correa said in the interview.
“We have to look at the possibility that he may be extradited to the United States, that there may be a secret court there, that he may face the death penalty.”
Assange, 41, took refuge at Ecuador’s embassy in London on June 19 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sex crime allegations.
Neither the US nor Swedish authorities have charged Assange with anything. 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.
Leaked US cables
The WikiLeaks founder fears that from Sweden, he could subsequently be re-extradited to the US to stand trial for espionage, after a trove of leaked US diplomatic cables and military logs were published on his whistleblower website.
Correa said that he sympathises with Assange but also feels respect for the British legal system and for international law. He said his government has already gathered enough information to take a responsible decision.
Baltasar Garzon, Assange’s mother, recently travelled to Ecuador along with a former Spanish judge to argue in favour of granting him asylum.
Correa has often been at odds with Washington and offered Assange asylum in 2010.
He has said the mere possibility that Assange could face capital punishment in the US could be reason enough for his government to grant the activist’s asylum request.
Even if Ecuador decides to grant Assange political asylum, it remains to be seen if British authorities would allow him to leave the country. In the absence of a safe conduct agreement between Quito and London, he could stay on embassy grounds indefinitely.