‘Granting Ecuadorian citizenship to Assange won’t sway UK’
Quito, Jan 19 : A former Ecuadorian President has said the current administration’s decision to grant citizenship to WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange “will not convince the British to let him exit the UK”.
“If that was the Foreign Ministry’s strategy, they’re quite naive. You could give him the Pope’s passport and the British authorities wouldn’t let him leave,” Rafael Correa, who served as president for a decade, said in an interview with Efe here on Thursday.
Correa’s leftist administration had granted Assange political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2012.
“I granted asylum to Julian Assange not because I agree with what he did,… but because it was clear that he wouldn’t be guaranteed a fair trial, and there were even voices in the US that wanted to (prosecute him under a law) that would have implied the death penalty,” Correa said.
“The Ecuadorian government must protect him,” the former president said, stressing the importance of “acting in accordance with principles and values”.
In his remarks to Efe news, Correa examined Assange’s situation in light of the Moreno government’s decision to make the WikiLeaks Founder an Ecuadorian citizen.
The decision followed a request by Assange made in September 2016.
Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said that on December 20, eight days after Assange was granted citizenship, she asked the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to consider granting the WikiLeaks Founder diplomatic immunity, a request that London denied.
The Australian citizen had sought refuge at the Ecuadorian mission in June 2012 after losing a battle in the British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors had been seeking to question him about rape allegations dating back to 2010.
Following Sweden’s decision in May 2017, to end the probe, the British police said that they would arrest Assange if he left the embassy, as he still faces charges of failing to surrender to the court that was hearing the extradition case.
Assange, who denies all the accusations, says he believes that if he leaves the embassy British authorities could hand him over to the US for prosecution based on WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents.
Politicians and pundits in the US called for Assange to be prosecuted – or even assassinated – after WikiLeaks disseminated thousands of sensitive US diplomatic cables as well as a video of a 2007 attack that showed an American military helicopter crew killing a Reuters photographer and several other civilians in Iraq.
Referring to the naturalisation process, Correa said he was unaware of the “legal and technical details” but that he believed Assange’s years in the embassy, which is Ecuadorian territory, made him eligible for citizenship.
Correa, who was president from 2007 to 2017, is in the country to encourage his countrymen to vote “no” in a February 4 referendum called by his hand-picked successor, Lenin Moreno.
Correa and Moreno have had a political falling-out in the last few months, with the former accusing the current head of state of betraying his “citizens’ revolution”, aimed at achieving wealth distribution and other goals.
In the upcoming plebisicite, voters would be asked among other things whether they wanted to repeal a constitutional amendment backed by Correa that allows the indefinite re-election of presidents.
A “yes” vote on that question would effectively bar Correa from leading the country again.
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Ecuador says it is considering inviting a third-party mediator to tackle its long-standing disagreement with Britain
over the fate of Julian Assange.
The foreign minister said the situation was “unsustainable”.
The Wikileaks founder has been confined to the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012, claiming political asylum.
He was originally wanted on sexual assault allegations in Sweden, which have since been dropped, but says he now fears extradition to the US.
“We’re considering and exploring the possibility of a mediation,” Ecuador’s foreign minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said on Tuesday, adding that they could involve a “third country or personality”.
“A person cannot live in those conditions for ever,” she said.
Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, made headlines in 2010 when his organisation leaked US military helicopter footage, which showed the killing of civilians in Iraq.
London’s Metropolitan Police says he will still be arrested if he leaves the embassy building, on the charge of failing to surrender to the court back in 2012 – and the UK refuses to guarantee he will not be extradited to the US.
Ms Espinosa said: “No solution will be achieved without international cooperation and the cooperation of the United Kingdom, which has also shown interest in seeking a way out.”
In 2016, a United Nations panel ruled that Mr Assange was being “arbitrarily detained” and should be allowed to walk free. It said he should also be compensated for his “deprivation of liberty”.
The UK Foreign Office, however, rejected the ruling.
Mr Assange’s legal team have maintained his confinement to the embassy amounts to illegal detention.
Responding to Ms Espinosa’s comments, a UK Government spokesman said: “The Government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”
The sexual assault allegations against Mr Assange were dropped in May 2017.
At the time, Ecuador said the UK should guarantee him “safe passage” to Ecuador if he leaves the embassy.