Assange seeks political asylum20/06/2012 - 08:38:15
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last night applied for political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after failing in his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex crime allegations.
The 40-year-old Australian is currently inside the building in Knightsbridge, having gone there yesterday afternoon to request asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.
The country’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino told a press conference in the South American country that it was considering his request.
In a short statement last night, Mr Assange said: “I can confirm that today I arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum. This application has been passed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital Quito.
“I am grateful to the Ecuadorian ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application.”
The computer expert, who was on £200,000 (€248,000) bail after failing in several attempts to halt extradition, attracted several high-profile supporters including Ken Loach and socialite and charity fundraiser Jemima Khan, who each offered £20,000 (€24,800) as surety. Other supporters included Bianca Jagger and veteran left-winger Tony Benn.
The Swedish authorities want him to answer accusations of raping a woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August 2010 while on a visit to give a lecture.
Assange, whose WikiLeaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, says the sex was consensual and the allegations against him are politically motivated.
The Supreme Court last month ruled in favour of a High Court ruling that his extradition was legal.
Last week the Supreme Court refused an attempt by him to reopen his appeal against extradition, saying it was “without merit”.
He had until June 28 to ask European judges in Strasbourg to consider his case and postpone extradition on the basis that he has not had a fair hearing from the UK courts.
A statement issued on behalf of the Ecuadorian Embassy yesterday said Mr Assange would remain at the embassy while his request was considered.
“As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito,” it said.
“While the department assesses Mr Assange’s application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian Government.
“The decision to consider Mr Assange’s application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.”
It later added: “In order to reach a proper decision in line with international law on Mr Assange’s application, the Ecuadorian government will be seeking the views of the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States of America.
“The Ecuadorian government will consider all the representations carefully as it is obliged to do under the accepted process in assessing such applications.”
Mr Patino, speaking at a press conference in Ecuador yesterday, said that Assange had written to the country’s president, Rafael Correa, saying he was being persecuted and seeking asylum.
He told the press conference that the Australian had argued that “the authorities in his country will not defend his minimum guarantees in front of any government or ignore the obligation to protect a politically persecuted citizen”.
He added that Assange had written that he could not return to his home country because it would not block his extradition to “a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition”.
Assange’s move to claim asylum is the latest twist in a marathon legal battle played out in the glare of worldwide publicity.
Last November, the High Court upheld a ruling by District Judge Howard Riddle - sitting at Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in south London the previous February - that the computer expert should be extradited to face investigation.
The High Court declared that it would not be unfair or unlawful to extradite Assange, a decision backed by the Supreme Court, which ruled by a 5-2 majority that his extradition was lawful and could go ahead.
He was given 14 days on June 14 to consider the Supreme Court judgment before making a final decision on his next move.
His lawyer, Dinah Rose QC, told the Supreme Court’s justices that Assange was considering an application for his case to be reopened on the basis that there had been a flawed hearing, in which case European judges had the power to issue a direction to the UK Government that he should not be surrendered to Sweden if it decides to consider his claim.
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