British authorities have “warned” Ecuador that they could raid its embassy and arrest Julian Assange if he is not handed over. The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister responded by saying such a move would be a “flagrant violation” of international law.
Ecuador received a "direct" threat from the authorities in London that they are prepared to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy and arrest Assange if he is not delivered to their custody. Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's Foreign Minister, said the "written threat," an aide memoire, was delivered to Ecuador's Foreign Ministry and ambassador in London.
The letter received by the Ecuadorian Embassy stated that British authorities have a legal basis, founded in the Diplomatic and Consular Act of 1987, to arrest Assange on the Embassy’s premises.
"You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy,” read the letter. "We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us."
The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister noted that any entry by British authorities onto its ambassadorial premises in London would constitute a “flagrant violation” of Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Ecuador considers such a measure to be an “unacceptable act of hostility” against its sovereignty, the minister said, adding that if implemented it would force Ecuador to “respond.”
Patino said his country will call for an urgent summit of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss the “threat” to a sovereign country in the region.
No threat, however, would force the country to give up the universal principles under which it continues to offer Assange protection, the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry stated.
"We are not a British colony," Patino said. "The days of the colony are over."
The Ecuadorian government's final decision on whether to grant Assange asylum has already been made, but will only be announced at 7 am local time (12 pm GMT) Thursday, the foreign minister stated.
Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office stated that London was still “determined” to arrest and extradite Assange to Sweden.
“The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offenses, and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said, stressing that the UK is seeking a “diplomatically agreeable solution” to the issue.
The decision to strip the Ecuadorian Embassy off its diplomatic protection has not yet been taken, the spokesperson added. “Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection. We are not going to do this overnight.”
WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnnsson told AFP that the threat to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy was “extremely serious,” and said the group’s legal team considered it illegal.
Following the foreign ministry’s announcement, Assange supporters took to Twitter and other social media to urge people to gather in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to stop British authorities from raiding it.
A twenty-strong group of Assange supporters gathered outside the embassy, and organized a live stream from the scene. According to their reports, the live streams from the embassy suffered from DDoS attacks.
London police have moved in on the embassy after a press conference led by Patino. The foreign minister confirmed in his Twitter feed that the police presence around the embassy was growing.
Three police vans arrived at the embassy, and some policemen entered the lobby of the building but later left, Assange supporters gathered at the scene reported.
A pizza delivery man reportedly arrived to the embassy and tried to deliver a pizza for “Mark Anthony.” However, he was unable to do so and quickly left.
British police have penetrated the interior fire escape and foyer of the building housing the Ecuadorian Embassy, WikiLeaks tweeted. They also cordoned off an area around the building, and a police van remained parked some 20 meters away from the embassy.
Lawyer and author Eva Golinger says the aide memoire the Ecuadorian embassy received clearly states that the UK may act in order to secure Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy and place him under British detention.
“That’s clearly a violation of international law,” Golinger told RT. “It could clearly cause a rupture in relations. We don’t know what could happen beyond that in terms of violent physical interaction that could occur if the United Kingdom were to send its security forces into Ecuador’s embassy.”
Golinger noted that the UK may believe that it could easily intimidate a small Latin American country like Ecuador.
“But I think if that’s what they’re thinking, the Brits have got it wrong on Latin American sovereignty, integrity and dignity, because that’s certainly not going to be a position that Ecuador is going to take, nor is Latin America as a region,” she stressed.
If Ecuador does grant Assange asylum, it could face consequences on both political and economic planes.
“The UK could possibly call their ambassador back from Quito to London. The same would happen vice versa, so the Ecuadorian Ambassador would come back from London to Ecuador,” she said. “There could be further actions taken – there could pressure put on Ecuador via the United States in terms of economic sanctions.”
As Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa decides on whether to grant Julian Assange political asylum, his long-awaited decision may ultimately be in vain. Lawyers claim that whatever the decision, the WikiLeaks founder will not likely make it out of the UK.
Assange has been holed up at Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 19, after claiming asylum following a failed 18-month legal battle to prevent his extradition to Sweden.
The WikiLeak founder’s decision to seek asylum in Ecuador was motivated by fears that he could be extradited to the United States on charges of espionage upon being handed over to Swedish authorities. Assange believes he could face life imprisonment or even execution upon being shipped stateside.
However, the battle for asylum might only be the first hurdle Assange has to clear if he is to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Former British government lawyer Carl Gardner told Reuters “the question of asylum is arguably a red herring" as no safe passage to Ecuador can probably be secured.
The Ecuadorian Embassy, which is patrolled day and night by police instructed to arrest Assange for violating his bail conditions, is laid out in such a way that there is realistically only one way out.
"There is no other exit [other than the main one]”, an anonymous security manager at the building where the embassy is housed told Reuters. “He is going to have to come out of the main entrance," he continued.
"There is no way to bring a vehicle in because the car park is private and it is not connected in any way to their premises. He can climb out of a window, of course, but there are CCTV cameras everywhere," he concluded.
Some have suggested that Assange be appointed as an Ecuadorian diplomat to receive immunity. Others have claimed he could illegally be smuggled out in a diplomatic bag. Barring these two unlikely scenarios, Assange’s fate ultimately lies in the hands of UK authorities, a reality which does not bode well for him.
"I can't see the UK backing down and just allowing him safe passage out of the country," Rebecca Niblock, an extradition specialist at London law firm Kingsley Napley, said.
"I think the UK will see their obligations under the European extradition system as overriding any diplomatic relations with Ecuador, who haven't really been considering their diplomatic relations with the UK, apparently," she continued.
But with neither option politically viable for the government of Ecuador, Assange might soon receive political asylum but remain a prisoner in Great Britain all the same.
On Wednesday, rumors began circulating that Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa had in fact granted Assange political asylum.
The reports forced Correa to take to Twitter, where he wrote the “Assange asylum rumor is false.” Correa, who added the world’s most infamous whistleblower to the “club of the persecuted” while appearing on Assange’s show on RT in May, said he is awaiting a Foreign Ministry report on the matter before making a final decision.
On Monday, Correa told state-Run ECTV that his decision on the asylum bid would be forthcoming by week’s end.
Ecuador's foreign minister had previously indicated that the president would reveal his answer once the Olympic Games had concluded.