UK Authorities Threaten Ecuador Embassy Raid For Assange
Assange is facing arrest, but Ecuador says it will respond if the UK intervenes in an asylum attempt
The UK government has made an unprecedented threat to storm the Ecuador embassy where Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange is currently hiding to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.
Assange’s supporters say the move would be illegal, yet police and protesters have gathered at the Ecuador Embassy in London, where the Wikileaks founder has hidden since June, when he requested asylum after losing his final appeal against extradition to Sweden. He is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two former Wikileaks volunteers in 2010.
Ecuador has promised to announce a decision on Assange’s asylum at 1PM UK time, but the British government has threatened to lift the Embassy’s diplomatic immunity and enter the building by force if the Ecuadorean authorities attempt to grant him asylum. The move would be unprecedented, but the Government has made an explicit threat in a letter to the government of Ecuador, claiming a 1987 act gives it the right to do so.
Assange in the balance
“You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy,” said the UK government in a letter, revealed by Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino at a news conference in Quito yesterday.
The Act, brought in after the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London, allows the Government to revoke the diplomatic status of a building if the country using it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post.”
“Ecuador rejects in the most emphatic terms the explicit threat of the British official communication,” said Patino, saying it was improper, coming from a “democratic, civilised and rule-abiding country”.
If the British Government does use force, it would be viewed as “an unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act and as an attempt against our sovereignty,” said Patino. “It would force us to respond.”
Wikileaks has responded, saying that these conditions have not been met, and to enter the embassy would be a “unilateral and shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies worldwide”.
“This threat is designed to preempt Ecuador’s imminent decision on whether it will grant Julian Assange political asylum, and to bully Ecuador into a decision that is agreeable to the United Kingdom and its allies,” read the Wikileaks statement, going on to argue that the United Nations (in Resolution 2312) has said that granting asylum “cannot be regarded as unfriendly to any other State”, so there should be no diplomatic consequences if Ecuador does grant asylum to Assange.
Legal experts in Assange’s native Australia agree that the British threat is unheard of. ”If the United Kingdom revoked the Embassy’s diplomatic protection and entered the Embassy to arrest Assange, Ecuador could rightly view this as a significant violation of international law which may find its way before an international court,” said the Australian National University’s Don Rothwell said in a statement.
Although Assange is wanted for questioning, Wikileaks pointed out that he has not been charged with any crime in any country. The group called for resignation of Foreign Secretary William Hague , who is currently acting as Prime Minister while David Cameron and Nick Clegg are on holiday.
With Julian Assange in the news, Wikileaks has been in the spotlight, facing a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack which took it offline for a time. The site has also continued to reveal private emails and files which it says expose government wrongdoing – including an email which implicated the UK government and the Metropolitan Police in a surveillance network called TrapWire.