UK 'threatens' Ecuador over Assange asylum
16 August 2012, 11:08
Quito — Ecuador accused Britain on Wednesday of threatening to storm its
London embassy to arrest Julian Assange after the UK issued a stern
warning to the South American nation ahead of its decision on an asylum
bid by the WikiLeaks founder.
Minister Ricardo Patino said Britain had earlier in the day issued "a
written threat it could assault our embassy" if Assange is not handed
Patino said he would announce on Thursday morning whether
Ecuador would grant the request of the secret-spilling former Australian
hacker, who took refuge in Ecuador's embassy on 19 June to avoid
extradition to Sweden. Assange faces questioning there for alleged
As news broke of the warning, police were seen
reinforcing Scotland Yard's presence outside the embassy in a tony
London neighbourhood near the Harrods department store.
In London, a small group of Assange supporters
gathered outside the Ecuadorean embassy late on Wednesday, according to
live footage broadcast by a citizen journalist on the scene. The embassy
was dark, though occasionally curtains appeared to move.
officials have vowed not grant Assange safe passage out of their
country. They say they will arrest him the moment he steps foot outside
But they had not publicly suggested they might strip the embassy of its diplomatic inviolability.
Patino's brief appearance before reporters, Britain's Foreign Office
issued a statement citing a 1987 British law it says permits the
revocation of diplomatic status of a building if the foreign power
occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or
exclusively for the purposes of a consular post".
The AP found no
record of that law ever being used to justify forcible entry into an
embassy. Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the
territory of the foreign nation.
Asked by The Associated Press
about Patino's characterisation of Britain's warning, a Foreign Office
official said via e-mail that the letter "was not a threat" and was
intended to clarify "all aspects of British law that Ecuador should be
aware of". The official would not be identified by name, citing policy.
said the missive including the veiled threat was delivered to his
country's Foreign Ministry in writing and verbally to its ambassador in
London on Wednesday. The law cited was Britain's 1987 Diplomatic and
Consular Premises Act.
'Beacon of free speech'
Patino said Ecuador "rejects in the most energetic terms the explicit threat of the official British communication".
The country's London embassy posted a statement on its website
suggesting that "instead of threatening violence" Britain should "use
its energy to find a peaceful resolution to this situation which we are
aiming to achieve".
The Foreign Office statement did not
elaborate on Britain's intentions if Assange were to be granted asylum
by Ecuador. Its leftist president, Rafael Correa, has called the
Wikileaks founder a beacon of free speech but has used criminal libel
law to try to silence opposition media at home.
"We have an
obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give
Ecuador [the] full picture," the British statement said, before adding:
"We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution."
whose 2010 publishing online of thousands of secret US diplomatic
cables and military dispatches has angered US officials, says the
charges against him are trumped up.
His supporters say they believe the US has secretly indicted him and would extradite him from Sweden.
Doubts over raid
has said Assange could face the death penalty in the United States and
for that reason he considers the asylum request a question of political
Analysts in Ecuador expressed doubts that Britain would raid the embassy.
Julio Echeverria of Quito's Flacso university said Britain "has a long
establish tradition in Europe of respecting diplomatic missions", which
under international law are considered sovereign territory.
former Ecuadorean ambassador to London, Mauricio Gandara, told The
Associated Press "I refuse to believe in this threat because if asylum
is granted the British government will not grant safe passage and Mr
Assange could be in the embassy for a long time".
Meanwhile, AFP reported that the whistleblowing website Wikileaks on Thursday condemned the British threat.
"WikiLeaks condemns in the strongest possible terms the UK's resort to intimidation," it said in a statement.
'Show of force'
threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not
proportionate to the circumstances, and an unprecedented assault on the
rights of asylum-seekers worldwide."
Wikileaks also said the embassy was currently surrounded by police "in a menacing show of force".
transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and
shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects
embassies worldwide," it said.
"This threat is designed to
pre-empt Ecuador's imminent decision on whether it will grant Julian
Assange political asylum, and to bully Ecuador into a decision that is
agreeable to the United Kingdom and its allies.
"We remind the
public that these extraordinary actions are being taken to detain a man
who has not been charged with any crime in any country," it added.
British Foreign Office spokesman has said police were ready to arrest
Assange for breaching the terms of his bail granted in 2010.
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," the spokesperson said in London.
noted that the tougher stance by London coincided with British Foreign
Secretary William Hague standing in for Prime Minister David Cameron
while he was on vacation.
It claimed Hague's department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had overseen the negotiations to date with Ecuador.
"If Mr Hague has, as would be expected, approved this decision, WikiLeaks calls for his immediate resignation," it said.
Assange's mother earlier on Thursday claimed the United States was behind the British threat.
the US wants, the US gets from its allies, regardless of if it's legal
or if it's ethical or in breach of human or legal rights," she told
reporters in Australia.
Patino said Ecuador "has made a decision" on whether to grant Assange asylum and would announce it at noon on Thursday.