Julian Assange Q&A: Assange’s wait inside embassy could stretch out into years
Q: Why is Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy?
A: He is seeking political asylum because he fears that if he is sent to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault, he may end up being sent on the US to face charges relating to Wikileaks.
Q: Why can’t the police arrest Assange while he is inside the embassy?
A: Police cannot enter an embassy unless they have the permission of the ambassador. This rule was set out in the 1961 Vienna Convention, which codified the “rule of inviolability”.
Q: Is there any possibility of that situation changing?
A: The Foreign Office has reminded Ecuador that it has the power to revoke the embassy’s diplomatic status under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which was introduced following the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot by a bullet fired from the Libyan embassy. This would potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Assange. The 1987 act empowers ministers to revoke diplomatic status. But experts in international law say that such a move would almost certainly be challenged by Ecuador in the English or international courts.
Q: What would happen if Assange decides to leave the embassy?
A: Even though he has been granted asylum, police officers are waiting outside and they have the power and right to arrest Assange for breach of bail if he steps outside.
Q: Could he be protected from arrest?
A: There have been suggestions that Ecuador could give Assange diplomatic or UN representative status in an attempt to give him diplomatic immunity. That might not prove successful given that the Met has arrested many diplomats over the years – many for drink-driving.
Q: What are his chances of getting out of Britain?
A: Assuming Assange was not arrested outside the embassy, he could get into a diplomatic car which would be protected in international law from“search, requisition, attachment and execution”. The Met might be able to stop the car, but not have the right to search it for Assange. Assange would also be vulnerable when he got out of the car to get into an aircraft.
Q: Is there a chance Assange could stay in the Ecuadorian embassy for a long time?
A: Yes. There have been instances of asylum-seekers spending long stints within embassies. The longest-known case is that of Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, who spent 15 years in the US embassy in Budapest following the Soviet crackdown in 1956 in Hungary. He later made it to Austria.
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