Ecuador to decide on Assange asylum bid

President Rafael Correa to make decision as WikiLeaks founder remains in Ecuadorian embassy in London, risking arrest.

Julian Assange seeks asylum in the Ecuador Embassy in London
Media gather outside the Ecuadorean embassyin London where Assange has sought political asylum [EPA]

Ecuador’s government has said it will announce a decision on the fate of Julian Assange as the WikiLeaks founder remains in its London embassy seeking asylum to avoid being sent to Sweden.

Assange also faces immediate arrest on leaving the embassy for breaching his bail conditions in the battle to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer accusations of sexual assault.

Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, will make a decision on Assange’s application later on Thursday, the country’s deputy foreign minister Marco Albuja told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

He would meanwhile “remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government” while authorities in the capital, Quito, considered his case, Ecuador said.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about allegations of sexual assault made by two women, which he denies.

The justice ministry in Stockholm said on Wednesday it expected Britain to extradite Assange, but authorities in London said he was beyond the police’s reach in the Ecuadorian embassy.

By diplomatic convention, British police cannot enter the embassy without authorisation from Ecuador. But even if Quito granted him asylum, he has no way of travelling to Ecuador without passing through London and exposing himself to arrest.

“He has breached one of his bail conditions which was to be at his bail address between 10pm and 8am every day … He is subject to arrest under the Bail Act,” a spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police said.

Assange’s fears

Ecuador said Assange had accused his native Australia of abandoning him and expressed fears that if sent to Sweden, he would be extradited onwards to the US where he believes he could face criminal charges punishable by death.

Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee reports from London

Assange’s website, WikiLeaks, angered the US administration in 2010 by publishing secret US diplomatic cables.

“I genuinely believe, and I know him well, that he fears for his life,” said Vaughan Smith, founder of a now defunct TV news agency, who hosted Assange at his country mansion for 13 months after Assange was freed on bail in December 2010.

“He fears that if he goes to Sweden he’ll be sent to America and you only have to look at the treatment of Bradley Manning by the Americans to fell that he’s right to be fearful,” Smith told the BBC.

Manning, the US intelligence analyst accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of government files to Wikileaks, faces a court-martial in September at which he could be jailed for life.

Authorities in Quito had briefly offered Assange residency at the height of the WikiLeaks furore in November 2010 before backing off.

Ecuador connection

It was not clear whether Assange’s decision to appeal to Ecuador was connected to a recent interview he conducted with Rafael Correa, the South American country’s leftist president, on Russia Today, a Kremlin-sponsored English-language TV channel.

“Cheer up. Welcome to the club of the persecuted,” Correa told Assange at the end of the interview, which was conducted by video-link between Britain and Ecuador and posted on YouTube by Russia Today TV channel on May 22.

The two men appeared to hit it off during the 25-minute interview, exchanging flattering comments and laughing at each other’s jokes.

Assange expressed sympathy with Correa’s battle against his country’s media – viewed by Human Rights Watch as a serious threat to free speech – and praised him for getting more done for his country than President Barack Obama was achieving for the Us.

In London, a crowd of television crews and reporters were stationed in front of the Ecuadorian embassy but there was no sighting of Assange, whose distinctive white-blond hair has helped make him instantly recognisable around the world.

Neither US nor Swedish authorities have charged Assange with anything.

The former computer hacker, whose unpredictable behaviour and love of the limelight has cost him the support of many former friends and colleagues, lost a long-running legal battle last week to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden.

Having exhausted all possible avenues offered by the British courts, Assange’s only option to keep fighting would have been an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies