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News, August 2012
UK Threat to Storm Ecuadorian Embassy and Arrest Julian Assange
Wikileaks Press, Thursday 16th August, 2012, 3:00am UTC
Justice for Assange: http://justice4assange.com======================
Britain furious as Ecuador grants Assange asylum
Ecuador set itself on a collision course with Britain and Sweden on Thursday by agreeing to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, with Britain insisting it will carry out its "obligation" to extradite Assange despite the decision.
August 17, 2012, AFP -
Ecuador on Thursday granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, angering Britain, which insisted it would extradite him to Sweden for questioning in a sexual assault case.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino justified the move by saying that Sweden might one day send Assange to the United States, where his supporters fear he could face capital charges for publishing a trove of classified files.
"The Ecuador government, loyal to its tradition of protecting those who seek refuge with us at our diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange," Patino told a news conference.
The decision escalated a crisis that began on June 19, when the 41-year-old Australian took refuge at Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual misconduct.
Assange supporters outside the mission cheered the news, and the WikiLeaks founder thanked Ecuador for its "courageous" decision.
"While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented US investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped," he said.
Britain said it would carry out its "obligation" to extradite Assange despite Ecuador's decision, and Sweden summoned the Ecuadoran ambassador to explain Patino's charge that Assange might not be treated fairly.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Quito that the "harboring of alleged criminals, or frustrating the due legal process in a country, is not a permitted function."
In London, police beefed up their presence outside the embassy, near the famed Harrods department store, with around 30 officers and nine vans stationed around the building.
Washington meanwhile denied it was lobbying Britain to take Assange into custody.
"With regard to the charge that the US was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"It is an issue among the countries involved and we are not planning to interject ourselves."
The Organization of American States, which met in emergency session, said it would decide Friday whether to call a meeting of its foreign ministers. Britain has observer status in the OAS.
In Quito, meanwhile, about 50 activists protested on Thursday night at the British embassy to demand that Assange be given safe passage to Ecuador.
British representative Philip Barton said London was "committed to finding a mutually acceptable solution to this problem."
Ecuador has called a meeting of foreign ministers from the South American regional bloc UNASUR on Sunday.
"Nobody is going to scare us," Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said on his Twitter account, minutes before the decision was announced.
Patino said his government reached its decision after Britain, Sweden and the United States refused to provide guarantees that Assange would not be extradited to the United States.
In 2010, WikiLeaks obtained and published online an enormous cache of US military documents on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables that deeply embarrassed the United States.
A US Army private, Bradley Manning, faces an American military court trial later this year for allegedly passing the classified material to WikiLeaks.
"If he were extradited to the United States, Mr Assange would not receive a fair trial," Patino alleged.
"It is not implausible that he would be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and be condemned to life in prison or capital punishment."
Patino said Assange's imprisonment in Sweden "would open up a chain of events" that could result in his extradition to a third country.
"As a result, Ecuador feels his arguments mean his fears are genuine, that he could be the victim of political persecution because of his decisive defense of the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press," he said.
Patino said that if Britain did not grant Assange safe passage out of the country, he would remain "under the protection of our embassy."
Spanish rights lawyer Baltasar Garzon, who is helping Assange's defense, raised the possibility of taking the matter before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Britain's Foreign Office, however, stood its ground.
"Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
Ecuador grants political asylum to Wikileaks' Assange
Ecuador said Thursday it would grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, fearing his human rights and safety were at risk. In turn, Britain vowed to stick to its "binding obligation" to extradite Assange to Sweden.
By News Wires (text)
REUTERS - Ecuador granted political asylum to Julian Assange on Thursday, ratcheting up tension in a standoff with Britain which has warned it could revoke the diplomatic status of Quito’s embassy in London to allow the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder.
The high-profile Australian former hacker has been holed up inside the red-brick embassy in central London for eight weeks since he lost a legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over rape allegations.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said he feared for the safety and rights of Assange which is why he said his country had decided to grant him asylum.
“Ecuador has decided to grant political asylum to Julian Assange,” Patino told a news conference in Quito.
Ecuador’s decision takes what has become an international soap opera to new heights since Assange first angered the United States and its allies by publishing secret U.S. diplomatic cables on his WikiLeaks website.
Outside the embassy near London’s famed Harrods department store, supporters made the announcement over a loudspeaker to cheers and clapping from protesters who had gathered outside the building in support of Assange.
Protesters shouted: “The people united will never be defeated!”, bearing Ecuador flags and holding posters showing Assange’s head that read “no extradition”.
Before the decision was announced, Britain said it could use a little-known piece of legislation to strip Ecuador’s embassy of its diplomatic status so that Assange could be detained.
“It is too early to say when or if Britain will revoke the Ecuadorean embassy’s diplomatic status,” a Foreign Office spokesman said before Ecuador’s decision was announced. “Giving asylum doesn’t fundamentally change anything.”
“We have a legal duty to extradite Mr Assange. There is a law that says we have to extradite him to Sweden. We are going to have to fulfill that law.”
The Ecuadorean government has bristled at Britain’s warning. It’s foreign minister said Britain was threatening Ecuador with a “hostile and intolerable act” and accused London of blackmail.
Britain’s threat to withdraw diplomatic status from the Ecuadorean embassy drew criticism from some former diplomats who said it could lead to similar moves against British embassies.
“I think the Foreign Office have slightly overreached themselves here,” Britain’s former ambassador to Moscow, Tony Brenton, told the BBC.
“If we live in a world where governments can arbitrarily revoke immunity and go into embassies then the life of our diplomats and their ability to conduct normal business in places like Moscow where I was and North Korea becomes close to impossible.”
UK threatens to storm embassy to get Assange
Britain threatened to storm Ecuador’s London embassy on Wednesday in order to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is seeking political asylum in the South American country. Quito said a decision would be announced Thursday.
REUTERS – The diplomatic standoff over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange escalated on Wednesday after Britain threatened to raid Ecuador’s embassy in London if Quito did not hand over Assange, who has been taking refuge there for two months.
The Ecuadorean government said such an action would be considered a “hostile and intolerable act” as well as a violation of its sovereignty.
“Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.
“But that decision has not yet been taken. We are not going to do this overnight. We want to stress that we want a diplomatically agreeable solution.”
Quito bristled at the threat and said it would announce its decision on Assange’s asylum request on Thursday at 7 a.m. (1200 GMT).
“We want to be very clear, we’re not a British colony. The colonial times are over,” Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said in an angry statement after a meeting with President Rafael Correa.
“The move announced in the official British statement, if it happens, would be interpreted by Ecuador as an unfriendly, hostile and intolerable act, as well as an attack on our sovereignty, which would force us to respond in the strongest diplomatic way,” Patino told reporters.
Ecuador, whose government is part of a left-leaning bloc of nations in South America, called for meetings of regional foreign ministers and the hemispheric Organization of American States to rally support in its complaint against Britain.
“We are deeply shocked by British government’s threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy,” the mission said on its website.
“This is a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention.”
The embassy, near London’s famed Harrods department store, was under tight surveillance, with three police officers manning the entrance and several others patrolling around the red-brick building.
A group of Assange supporters who responded to a rallying call by WikiLeaks on Twitter gathered outside to demand Assange’s freedom and streamed the scene live on the Internet.
“We have been here day in day out as a vigil to make sure there is at least a witness to all of this,” said Anthony, one of the supporters.
WikiLeaks earlier tweeted saying, “If police storms, they
will do so in early hours of the morning. Please stay, & those
who can, go to the embassy and #ProtectAssange”.
The Australian former hacker has been in the embassy for eight weeks since losing a legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he has been accused of rape and sexual assault by two WikiLeaks supporters.
“The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation,” a Foreign Office spokesman said earlier.
Swedish prosecutors have not yet charged Assange, but they have moved forward with their investigations and they believe they have a case to take to trial.
Assange fears Sweden could send him on to the United States, where he believes authorities want to punish him for publishing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks in 2010 in a major embarrassment for Washington.
Even if he were granted asylum, Assange has little chance of leaving the Ecuadorean embassy in London without being arrested.
There has been speculation he could travel to an airport in a diplomatic car, be smuggled out in a diplomatic bag, or even be appointed an Ecuadorean diplomat to give him immunity.
But lawyers and diplomats see those scenarios as practically unworkable.
The Ecuadorean government has said it wants to avoid Assange’s extradition to Sweden, but approval of asylum would offer no legal protection in Britain where police will arrest him once they get a chance.
“The question of asylum is arguably a red herring,” said former British government lawyer Carl Gardner.
Ecuador’s leader Correa is a self-declared enemy of “corrupt” media and U.S. “imperialism”, and apparently hit it off with Assange during a TV interview the Australian did with him in May.
Correa joked then with Assange that he had joined “the club of the persecuted”.
Some, though, find Assange’s connection with Ecuador odd, given that Correa is labeled a persecutor of the media by journalism freedom groups.
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