London – As the decision over Julian Assange’s asylum looms near, the U.K. is threatening to raid the Ecuadorian Embassy unless Assange is handed over for extradition to Sweden.
Reports from Ecuador on Wednesday state that the British government had threatened to raid its embassy in London if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not handed over. After a meeting with President Rafael Correa, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters, “Today we’ve received a threat by the United Kingdom, a clear and written threat that they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange.” “Ecuador rejects in the most emphatic terms the explicit threat of the British official communication.” Patiño added that such a threat was “improper of a democratic, civilized and rule abiding country”. “If the measure announced in the British official communication is enacted, it will be interpreted by Ecuador as an unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act and as an attempt against our sovereignty. It would force us to respond,” he said. “We are not a British colony,” he added in anger. A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said that the U.K. remains “determined” to fulfil its obligation to extradite Assange. “Throughout this process have we have drawn the Ecuadorians’ attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or to the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK,” he said, adding, “We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.” According to the BBC, the U.K. is threatening to invoke the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987. This law allows the U.K. to revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy on U.K. soil, which would effectively allow police to enter the building and arrest Assange. Assange has been ensconced in the London Ecuadorian Embassy since June 19, when his appeal against extradition to Sweden on alleged sex charges failed. He is seeking political asylum in Ecuador, and President Rafael Correa will be making a decision shortly as to whether the country will give him asylum. The WikiLeaks founder decided to seek asylum in Ecuador, over fears that should he be extradited to Sweden, that country would then pass him on to the U.S., where he could face life imprisonment or even execution. However, should President Correa grant Assange asylum, he may have more problems on his hands. Former British government lawyer Carl Gardner told Reuters “the question of asylum is arguably a red herring” as no safe passage to Ecuador can probably be secured. British Police patrol the Ecuadorian Embassy day and night, and have been instructed to arrest Assange for violation of his bail conditions. This makes it difficult for Assange to even step outside the door. A security manager at the building which houses the embassy told Reuters, “There is no other exit [other than the main one]. He is going to have to come out of the main entrance.” “There is no way to bring a vehicle in because the car park is private and it is not connected in any way to their premises. He can climb out of a window, of course, but there are CCTV cameras everywhere,” he added. Some have suggested that Assange could be illegally smuggled out in a diplomatic bag, and others suggest he be appointed an Ecuadorian diplomat, in order to receive diplomatic immunity. Both rather unlikely scenarios, but his fate ultimately lies in the hands of U.K. authorities. Rebecca NIblock, an extradition specialist at the London law firm Kingsley Napley, said, “I can’t see the U.K. backing down and just allowing him safe passage out of the country.” “I think the U.K. will see their obligations under the European extradition system as overriding any diplomatic relations with Ecuador, who haven’t really been considering their diplomatic relations with the U.K. apparently,” she added. With all this at stake, Assange could likely receive political asylum, but would still remain a prisoner in the U.K. Patiño says that Ecuador will announce its decision regarding Assange’s asylum request on Thursday at 07h00 Ecuador time (12h00 GMT).