Assange seeks asylum in Ecuadorian embassy

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Friday, June 22, 2012

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Julian Assange, founder of whistle blowing site Wikileaks, has spent a third night in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He entered the embassy on Tuesday to claim asylum, breaking strict bail conditions, after losing an appeal in the British high courts over extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over allegations of sexual assault in 2010.

File photo of Assange in 2010
Image: Ralgis.

Assange, 40, awaits a decision from diplomats on his asylum application. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he explained the decision following a feeling of abandonment by his native Australia, adding that he was not certain that Ecuador would grant his request. "We had heard that the Ecuadoreans were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the struggles of the organisation with the United States," he said. The Australian government have repeatedly stated he has been receiving assistance from their London embassy, claims Assange denies.

Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, said that the country would examine the application carefully. Assange alleges that sending him to Sweden will result in eventual extradition to America, to face charges over a 2010 incident in which Wikileaks released leaked US diplomatic cables. Correa said that the matter centred around whether Assange would face the death penalty if sent to the US.

Sweden is seeking to question Assange following allegations, in 2010, that he sexually attacked two female Wikileaks volunteers in Stockholm. At extradition hearings Assange's lawyers have argued that he was allowed to leave Sweden, and that attempts to conduct an interview via video link have been rejected. But last week the high court dismissed an appeal claim "without merit". He now has until 28 June to file an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights. Jemima Khan, who provided part of the surety for his bail, has called on Assange to face his accusers, saying "I personally would like to see Assange confront the rape allegations in Sweden and the two women at the centre have a right to a response."

In breaking his bail conditions Assange risks being arrested once he leaves the embassy. The bail included a curfew, during which he had to be present at a named address. Even if Ecuador grant asylum it will be hard for Assange to leave the country; diplomatic immunity (which would protect him from arrest) must be approved by the Foreign Office.


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