WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seeks refuge in bid to avoid extradition
WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange is seeking 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 said to be inside the building in Knightsbridge, having gone there yesterday afternoon and requested asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino told a press conference in the South American country last night that it was considering his request.
In a short statement, 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.”
Mr Patino said that Mr Assange had written to the country’s president, Rafael Correa, saying he was being persecuted and seeking asylum.
He said 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 Mr 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”.
The computer expert, who was on £240,000 bail after failing in several attempts to halt extradition, attracted several high-profile supporters including Ken Loach, film maker Michael Moore, journalist John Pilger, Nobel prize winner Sir John Sulston and socialite and charity fundraiser Jemima Khan, who each offered £20,000 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.
Mr Assange, whose WikiLeaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, insists the sex was consensual and the allegations 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 28 June 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 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.
“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.”
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