Ecuador has granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum, citing ‘genuine’ fears over his safety and security, despite the UK saying it has a ‘duty’ to extradite him to Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault.
Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino told a news conference in Quito that countries that had a responsibility to protect Mr Assange had ‘failed’ to do so.
Mr Patino called on UK authorities to grant Mr Assange safe passage to Ecuador after a personal intervention by the country’s president Rafael Correa.
The 41-year-old Australian national has spent the last two months in the South American country’s embassy and is in breach of his bail conditions over allegations of sexual assault in Sweden.
He sought political asylum at the embassy in June after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal against his extradition to Sweden.
Mr Assange, whose mass disclosure website published American diplomatic cables and classified documents from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, says he faces extradition to the US on espionage charges that carry the death penalty.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was ‘disappointed’ by Mr Patino’s statement but said it did not alter its plans.
‘Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal UK authorities are under binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden,’ an FCO statement said.
‘We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorian government’s decision this afternoon does not change that. We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act.’
Earlier, Mr Patino reacted angrily to suggestions from the UK it could use existing legislation to enter the embassy and arrest Mr Assange.
The Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 permits the revocation of the 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’.