Julian Assange will be granted asylum, says official
Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has agreed to give the WikiLeaks founder asylum, according to an official in Quito
“Ecuador will grant asylum to Julian Assange,” said an official in the Ecuadorean capital Quito, who is familiar with the government discussions.
On Monday, Correa told state-run ECTV that he would decide this week whether to grant asylum to Assange. Correa said a large amount of material about international law had to be examined to make a responsible informed decision.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño indicated that the president would reveal his answer once the Olympic Games were over. But it remains unclear if giving Assange asylum will allow him to leave Britain and fly to Ecuador, or amounts to little more than a symbolic gesture. At the moment he faces the prospect of arrest as soon as he leaves the embassy for breaching his bail conditions.
“For Mr Assange to leave England, he should have a safe pass from the British [government]. Will that be possible? That’s an issue we have to take into account,” Patino told Reuters on Tuesday.
Government sources in Quito confirmed that despite the outstanding legal issues Correa would grant Assange asylum – a move which would annoy Britain, the US and Sweden. They added that the offer was made to Assange several months ago, well before he sought refuge in the embassy, and following confidential negotiations with senior London embassy staff.
The official with knowledge of the discussions said the embassy had discussed Assange’s asylum request. The British government, however, “discouraged the idea,” the offical said. The Swedish government was also “not very collaborative”, the official said.
The official added: “We see Assange’s request as a humanitarian issue. The contact between the Ecuadorean government and WikiLeaks goes back to May 2011, when we became the first country to see the leaked US embassy cables completely declassified … It is clear that when Julian entered the embassy there was already some sort of deal. We see in his work a parallel with our struggle for national sovereignty and the democratisation of international relations.”
Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct. He is said to be living in one room of the diplomatic building, where he has a high-speed internet connection.
Ecuadorean diplomats believe Assange is at risk of being extradited from Sweden to the US, where he could face the death penalty. Assange’s supporters claim the US has already secretly indicted him following WikiLeaks’ release in 2010 of US diplomatic cables, as well as classified Afghan and Iraq war logs.
Correa and Patiño have both said that Ecuador will take a sovereign decision regarding Assange. They say they view his case as a humanitarian act, and are seeking to protect Assange’s right to life and freedom. On Monday the state-run newspaper El Telégrafo confirmed a decision had been made, although the paper did not specify what that decision was. It said that senior officials had been meeting in the past few days to iron out the last legal details.
Two weeks ago Assange’s mother Christine Assange paid Ecuador an official visit, following an invitation by Ecuador’s foreign affairs ministry. She met with Correa and Patiño, as well as with other top politicians, including Fernando Cordero, head of Ecuador’s legislature. Both Patiño and Ms Assange appeared visibly touched during a press conference, which had to be briefly suspended when Ms Assange started crying.
Ms Assange also held several public meetings in government buildings, and in one case she was accompanied by the head of Assange’s defence team, Baltasar Garzón, the former Spanish judge who ordered the London arrest of Chile’s General Pinochet.
Other top political figures in Ecuador have been vocal about the government’s support of Assange’s bid. “Our comrade the president, who leads our international policy, will grant Julian Assange asylum,” said María Augusta Calle, a congresswoman of the president’s party, and former head of the Sovereignty, Foreign Affairs and Latin American Integration Commission during the 2008 Constitutional Assembly, during a meeting with Ms Assange.
Over the past year and a half, Assange has remained in touch with Ecuador’s embassy in London. In April, he interviewed President Correa for his TV show on Russia Today, the English-language channel funded by the Russian government. The interview, which lasted 75 minutes, included a pally exchange in which Assange and Correa bonded over freedom of speech and the negative role of the US in Latin America. At one point Correa joked: “Are you having a lot of fun with the interview, Julian?” Assange replied: “I’m enjoying your jokes a great deal, yes.”
Correa has made international headlines this year for what critics have called a government crackdown on private media. Analysts say that granting the WikiLeaks founder asylum could be a way for him to depict himself as a champion of freedom of speech ahead of the February 2013 presidential elections, in which he is expected to run again.