18 Aug 2012

Britain and Equador in stand-off over Assange

5:18 am on 18 August 2012

The British government says it will not let WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange out of the country, even though Ecuador has finally granted him political asylum.

Mr Assange, 41, took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in June to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he has been accused of rape and sexual assault. He denies the claims.

He fears he could be sent on to the United States to face charges relating to the leaking of diplomatic cables in 2010 which were published on his WikiLeaks website and caused major embarrassment for several governments.

On Thursday, Equador granted Mr Assange's request for political asylum, saying his human rights might be violated if he is sent to Sweden.

But Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague says there is no alternative to extradition and the government would not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the country.

The BBC reports the Ecuadorean authorities are now stuck with Mr Assange in their embassy and can't move forward because he will be arrested if he leaves the premises.

The Foreign Office has warned that it could lift the embassy's diplomatic status to fulfil a "legal obligation" to extradite him by using the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.

In a statement it said: ''Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden.

''We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorean government's decision this afternoon does not change that."

The BBC's legal correspondent says the risks of revoking the embassy's status are enormous - including making other embassies around the world vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Equador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino says he doesn't believe that the sexual assault allegations are the real reason why the Swedish government is seeking the extradition.

Mr Patino says his government has established other elements that explain what he calls the persecution of Mr Assange and that is why he has been given diplomatic asylum.

"We asked Sweden to offer us the guarantee that Mr Assange wouldn't be extradited to the United States.

"At the same time, we find it hard to believe that an extradition was granted just to take a statement - especially since we offered the Swedish government the opportunity of taking his statement at the Equadorean embassy in London and the Swedish government told us they couldn't accept it, when they have done it in other cases."