Ecuador is seeking to make progress with Britain over the fate of Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder has been claiming political asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012. Ecuador says it will continue to protect Assange, but he can’t stay at the embassy indefinitely.
Assange received diplomatic asylum from Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in mid-2012 on the grounds that his life would be in danger if Assange was extradited to the United States to face charges for leaking classified information. In 2010, Wikileaks leaked US military helicopter footage showing the killing of Iraqi civilians. Assange and his website have also leaked information from Guantanamo Bay, private emails belonging to 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and emails from the Democratic National Committee.
His continued political activism creates diplomatic headaches for Ecuador. His site made headlines last year when it released Clinton campaign emails one month before Election Day. In October 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump reacted to the email dump by saying, “I love WikiLeaks!” Embassy officials cut off his internet access over his involvement in leaking the emails.
Ecuador’s newly elected president Lenin Moreno has warned Assange that he must respect asylum conditions and refrain from getting involved in the affairs of other countries. Moreno said of Assange, “I respect the situation he is in, which calls for respect of his human rights, but we also ask that he respects the situation he is in.”
Assange was also charged with sexual assault crimes in Sweden, but those charges were dropped in May 2017. However, he is still facing an arrest warrant in London for failure to surrender to the court in 2012. According to London’s Metropolitan Police, he will be arrested if he leaves the embassy building. The UK refuses to guarantee he will not be extradited to the US. Assange is an Australian citizen.
Assange’s legal team have maintained his confinement to the embassy amounts to illegal detention. A United Nations panel ruled in 2016 that he was being “arbitrarily detained” and should be allowed to walk free. The UK Foreign Office rejected the ruling.
Ecuador said the UK should guarantee him “safe passage” to Ecuador if he leaves the embassy. Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Ecuador’s foreign minister, said, “We’re considering and exploring the possibility of a mediation.” A UK Government spokesman responded, “The Government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”