Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, has responded to what he calls the threats of the British government and has granted asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Assange fled – breaking bail conditions – to the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, London, fearing extradition from either Britain or Sweden to the United States.
In a press conference, Patino said that he wanted to ratify Ecuador’s position with regards to the threat the UK made against his country. He claimed that Ecuador could not believe the British administration had been totally honest.
Patino said the official communications from the UK said that there is a legal basis in law that would allow it to take action to arrest Assange within the embassy, and that it sincerely hoped it wouldn’t have to get to that point, “but if you can’t resolve the issue of the presence of Mr Assange this way is open to us”.
Patino said that the letter was a “clear attack” on Ecuador’s rights on granting diplomatic protection to someone who had asked for it, free of manipulation.
All day, supporters have been surrounding the Ecuadorian embassy which led to some arrests by the police. Protesters have been chanting, among other slogans, “Julian Assange, freedom fighter” and “Hands off Ecuador”.
Patino in his press conference pointed to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. He said that no national law could be used to justify intrusive action in diplomatic premises in any country of the world, and certainly should not be “used to blackmail or threaten the sovereignty of one country”. Patino pointed to the attacks on the British embassy in Tehran last year, which the government strongly denounced.
After the lengthy speech, Patino said that all evidence considered, Ecuador had a strong case to grant Julian Assange diplomatic immunity: the threats against his personal safety, human rights, and well being were agreed to be legitimate.
The difficulty for Ecuador now will be getting Assange out of the country with safe passage. The British government has not further clarified whether it plans to arrest Assange regardless of his diplomatic status.