Ecuador has granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The decision comes almost two months after the world-famous whistleblower came to the country’s embassy in London seeking protection.
“We have decided to grant political asylum to Mr. Assange,” said Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino. “We believe that his fears are legitimate and there are the threats that he could face political persecution.”
The announcement was met with celebrations outside the Ecuadorian embassy as the WikiLeaks founder's supporters began chanting "Hands off Ecuador" and "Assange freedom fighter."
Patino admitted that Julian Assange’s rights are endangered, as he is at high risk of extradition from Sweden to the US. Moreover, Assange’s home country will not provide him with adequate legal protection, he said.
“We think [Assange’s] extradition is viable to a country outside the EU,” Patino said at a press conference at the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry. “Judicial evidence clearly demonstrates that given an extradition to the US, Mr. Assange would not have a fair trial, he could be judged by special or military courts, and it is not unlikely to believe he would be treated in a cruel and degrading way, that he would receive a life sentence or death penalty, with which his human rights would not be respected.”
”Ecuador has confirmed Assange does not have enough protection from Australia where he holds citizenship,” Patino said.
Patino also reiterated Ecuador's offer to allow Sweden to interview Assange in their embassy in London, which was turned down.
“We trust that that the UK will offer as soon as possible the guarantee for the safe passage of asylum for Mr Assange and they will respect those international agreements they have signed in the past,” he concluded.
Watch Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino's full statement
Julian Assange has called Patino's statement a "significant victory", but said that his struggle continues as "the unprecedented US investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped," reads a press-release at WikiLeaks website.
His mother, Christine Assange, tells RT she has been hopeful all the time as Ecuador has a strong record of protecting political refugees.
After facing criticism for failing to offer Assange protection, the Australian government announced that an offer of assistance still is and always was on the table.
“If he wants consular support, it's offered, it's available," Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke told the Seven Network on Friday. "The offer of consular assistance is still there," Burke said, adding that Assange had not contacted Australian diplomatic officials.
The Australian government had not yet had any contact with Ecuadorian officials about the diplomatic situation around Assange, Burke added.
Meanwhile, Interpol has issued a statement confirming that Assange still remains on its international wanted persons list. A Red Notice on Assange issued in November 2010 remains valid, the statement said.
The UK Foreign Office says it is “disappointed” with Ecuador's decision, but says it does not affect Britain's legal obligation to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to Sweden.
"We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act," read the FCO's Twitter following Patino's statement. "Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal the UK authorities are under binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation."
Earlier in the day, the British government has stated is has absolutely no intention of letting Assange reach the South American country. The UK said that it will do everything in its power to block Assange’s passage to Ecuador.
UK authorities sparked a scandal when they announced they were prepared to raid the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to apprehend Assange, effectively revoking the embassy’s diplomatic immunity.
In the first part of his speech, Ricardo Patino extensively reprimanded the approach saying that such an act would be interpreted as “hostile and intolerable,” and an attack on Ecuador’s sovereignty that would provoke a dramatic diplomatic response.
""I will hit you hard, but if you behave I might not," the Ecuadorian foreign minister said reminding that UN and Vienna Conventions prohibit violating diplomatic space.
Meanwhile, Sweden has summoned Ecuador's ambassador slamming Assange asylum decision.
"We want to tell them that it's inacceptable that Ecuador is trying to stop the Swedish judicial process,'' Stockholm Foreign Ministry spokesman Anders Jorle said.
Ecuador claimed they received a “direct” written threat on Wednesday that authorities in London are prepared to storm the Ecuadorian embassy and arrest Assange if he is not delivered into their custody. The note was delivered to Ecuador's Foreign Ministry and ambassador in London, Patino said.
"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,” the letter said. "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 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, adding that the UK is seeking a “diplomatically agreeable solution” to the issue.
The decision to strip the Ecuadorian Embassy of its diplomatic protection has not yet been taken, the spokesperson said: “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.”
The threat to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy was “extremely serious” and illegal, WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnnsson told AFP.
Police cordoned off the area around the Ecuadorian embassy in London in an attempt to disperse a gathered crowd of protesters.
A brawl broke out earlier between police and protesters as officers surrounded the demonstrators. Three arrests were made, RT’s London correspondent said.
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 20-strong group of demonstrators gathered outside the embassy on Wednesday, and organized a livestream from the scene. According to their reports, the livestreams from the embassy suffered from DDoS attacks.
London police later moved in on the embassy after a press conference led by Patino. The foreign minister confirmed on Twitter feed that the police presence around the embassy was growing.