Wednesday, June 20, 2012 » 07:20am
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has sought political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after failing in his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex crime accusations.
The 40-year-old Australian is currently inside the building in Knightsbridge, having gone there on Tuesday afternoon and requested asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told a news conference in the South American country that it was considering his request.
Patino said Assange had written to the country’s president Rafael Correa saying he was being persecuted and seeking asylum.
He told the news conference the Australian had argued that ‘the authorities in his country will not defend his minimum guarantees in front of any government or ignore the obligation to protect a politically persecuted citizen’.
He added that Assange had written that he could not return to his home country because it would not block his extradition to ‘a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition’.
The reference is presumably to the United States. Assange claims the US has secretly indicted him for divulging American secrets and will act on the indictment if Sweden succeeds in extraditing him from Britain.
Assange shot to international prominence in 2010 with the release of hundreds of thousands of secret US documents, including a hard-to-watch video that showed US forces gunning down a crowd of Iraqi civilians and journalists whom they had mistaken for insurgents.
Australian authorities have co-operated with the United States in investigating WikiLeaks’ conduct.
They concluded Assange has broken no Australian law.
In a short statement this evening, Assange said: ‘I can confirm that today I arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum. This application has been passed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital Quito.
‘I am grateful to the Ecuadorian ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application.’
Assange, who was on STG200,000 ($A310,000) bail after failing in several attempts to halt extradition, attracted several high-profile supporters including filmmaker Ken Loach and socialite and charity fundraiser Jemima Khan, who each offered STG20,000 as surety.
The Swedish authorities want him to answer accusations of raping a woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August 2010 while on a visit to give a lecture.
Assange, whose WikiLeaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, says the sex was consensual and the allegations against him are politically motivated.
The Supreme Court last month ruled in favour of a High Court ruling that his extradition was legal.
Last week the Supreme Court refused an attempt by him to reopen his appeal against extradition, saying it was ‘without merit’.
He had until June 28 to ask European judges in Strasbourg to consider his case and postpone extradition on the basis that he has not had a fair hearing from the UK courts.
A statement issued on behalf of the Ecuadorian Embassy said Assange would remain at the embassy while his request was considered.
‘As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito,’ it said.
‘While the department assesses Mr Assange’s application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian government.
‘The decision to consider Mr Assange’s application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.’
It later added: ‘In order to reach a proper decision in line with international law on Mr Assange’s application, the Ecuadorian government will be seeking the views of the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States of America.
‘The Ecuadorian government will consider all the representations carefully as it is obliged to do under the accepted process in assessing such applications.’
The mother of Julian Assange says her son has shown clear thinking in seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Christine Assange says she desperately hopes Ecuador will decide to protect her son.
If it does not, she says other third-world governments who’ve been affected by US greed and corruption must come forward to offer protection.
‘When I heard about it this morning I thought good on you mate,’ Ms Assange told AAP on Wednesday.
‘It shows a level of clear thinking given there are absolutely no proper legal processes in this case.’