Julian Assange, the founder of anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, sought asylum at Ecuador’s Embassy in London after exhausting his options through British courts to avert extradition to Sweden.
Ecuador is studying the request and is in contact with the U.K. government, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in Quito yesterday. Assange, accused of rape by two Swedish women, has fought extradition to Sweden for 18 months.
Assange would have to leave the embassy if his asylum request is rejected, Douglas McNabb, senior principal at international criminal law firm McNabb Associates said by telephone from Washington. If Ecuador accepts the request, it probably would be able to escort him to the airport for a flight to Quito, he said.
“It’s a great move from a legal perspective,” said McNabb, who isn’t representing Assange or the governments in the case. “For him to be on the embassy grounds now, and for the Foreign Ministry to say he’s applied and we’re considering it, there must be something there that leads Assange to believe that it will be granted.”
In a letter to Ecuador’s government, Assange said his home country of Australia has “effectively abandoned” him and is “ignoring the obligation to protect its citizen, who is persecuted politically.” Extracts of the letter were included in a statement given out by Patino.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told a briefing in Los Cabos, Mexico, where she’s attending the Group of 20 summit, that Assange has gotten consular assistance “every step of the way.”
“Our consular officials will be in contact with him and also with Ecuador in London but his decisions in relation to this matter are his to make,” Gillard said.
Assange says Sweden fabricated the arrest warrant to help the U.S. punish him for publishing thousands of secret Pentagon and State Department documents on the Wikileaks website.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, an ally of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, is a critic of U.S. foreign policy. Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry offered Assange residency following the 2010 publication of the U.S. government cables, before rescinding the invitation.
In April, Assange and Correa discussed their shared criticism of the press when Assange interviewed the president on his television show “The World Tomorrow with Julian Assange.” Correa, who regularly spars with journalists over the coverage, has led a crackdown on the nation’s press over what he calls bias in the media.
Ecuador is seeking the renewal of U.S. trade benefits scheduled to expire next year, and may refuse to grant Assange asylum to avoid damaging its commercial relationship with the world’s largest economy, Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst at political risk research company Eurasia Group, said yesterday.
“It would depend on what they gauge the U.S. response will be and whether it will actually have repercussions,” Grais-Targow said by telephone from Washington. “Ecuador needs the U.S. a lot more than the U.S. needs Ecuador.”
Assange lost his bid this month to have the U.K.’s top court reconsider a decision allowing him to be extradited to Sweden. The court rejected his argument that the Swedish prosecutor who investigated the sex-assault claims wasn’t authorized to issue a European arrest warrant.
Assange’s lawyer Dinah Rose wasn’t available to comment when her office was contacted by Bloomberg News. The office of Gareth Peirce, another lawyer for Assange, declined to comment.
Assange, arrested in London in December 2010, may still appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The U.K. Supreme Court stayed extradition proceedings until the end of June to allow him to seek a final appeal at the Strasbourg, France-based tribunal.
The U.K. Home Office declined to comment, while the Foreign Office didn’t respond to a telephone call placed after business hours. The allegations against Assange became public around the same time he posted the leaked cables on the Internet, which raised questions about the Obama administration’s handling of classified information.