WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and is seeking asylum in the South American nation to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden to face charges of sexual misconduct, officials said late on Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed the development at a press conference held in the country's capital Quito on Tuesday, and said his country's government led by President Rafael Correa was currently "studying and analyzing" the asylum request made by Assange. He added that the final decision would be in accordance with "norms and principles of international law."
Meanwhile, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London issued a statement saying that Assange arrived there on Tuesday afternoon. It said Assange would "remain at the Embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian government," while his application for asylum was considered.
Stressing that Assange's bid for asylum in Ecuador "should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden," the Embassy statement added that Ecuador would consult with the governments of the UK, Sweden and the U.S. before making its decision.
Separately, the British Foreign Office said Assange was currently "on diplomatic territory and beyond the reach of the police." It added that British officials would work with their Ecuadorian counterparts to resolve the situation.
Notably, Ecuador had invited Assange in 2010 to seek residency in the Andean nation. But the government led by Leftist President Correa quickly withdrew the offer and accused Assange of violating U.S. laws.
Days earlier, the British Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Assange against his extradition to Sweden and upheld its May 30 ruling that the European arrest warrant for him was valid.
Although Assange's lawyers had argued that the European arrest warrant was invalid because it was issued by prosecutors rather than a judge, the Supreme Court rejected their claims in its May 30 ruling and stated that "judicial authority" could mean a prosecutor.
Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning in connection with allegations that he had raped one woman and molested another while on a visit in August, 2010. Sweden, which turned down Assange's application for residency permit, had issued an international arrest warrant for him in November 2010 in connection with the probe.
Assange has admitted to having met the two women while in Sweden, but denied having engaged in any non-consensual sex with them. He claims that the case is part of a smear campaign aimed at discrediting his controversial website and is politically-motivated.
Assange was arrested in London on a Swedish warrant in December, 2010. The Australian is currently free on a £200,000 bail provided by several high-profile supporters. He fears that he could be later extradited from Sweden to the U.S. on separate charges relating to publishing classified U.S. diplomatic cables, for which he could face the death penalty there.
Nevertheless, Swedish authorities have guaranteed that the European Court of Human Rights would intervene if Assange was to face the prospect of "inhuman or degrading treatment or an unfair trial" in the U.S.
The developments came after WikiLeaks, a website that publishes leaked classified information online, released some 250,000 classified cables sent from U.S. Embassies around the world to several newspapers, embarrassing Washington in the diplomatic front.
That move fueled a wave of public anger in the U.S., resulting in numerous calls for bringing Assange to justice for alleged treason. Further, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that the government documents were stolen "as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase."
by RTT Staff Writer
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