Assange asylum decision leaves Britain in uncharted waters
British foreign minister William Hague admits that
the standoff could drag on for years:
UK: Ecuador's decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian
Assange puts Britain in uncharted diplomatic and legal waters, as it
insisted Thursday it would go ahead with extraditing him to Sweden.
When Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino announced to applause
in Quito that his government was giving the 41-year-old Australian
political asylum, it raised a host of questions.
London reacted to the decision by insisting that, effectively, the
decision from Quito changed nothing and that it intended to go ahead
with extraditing Assange to Sweden as it is required to do under the
European arrest warrant.b Prosecutors in Sweden want to question Assange
about allegations made by two WikiLeaks volunteers that he raped or
sexually abused them after a seminar two years ago.
Put simply, the problem for Assange and supporters of his
whistleblowing website is how to get him out of the embassy and on to a
plane. For now, it appears that Assange has no option but to bed down
for a long stretch in the Victorian redbrick building near the famed
Harrods department store.
British police appear unlikely to storm the embassy, as Ecuador had
claimed angrily on Wednesday.
Britain's foreign minister William Hague admitted that the standoff
could drag on for years.
Hague reacted to Quito's decision by insisting that it effectively
changed nothing and that London intended to go ahead with extraditing
Assange to Sweden as it is required to do under the European arrest
Hague was blunt in his reading of the situation, saying that “we
cannot give safe passage to somebody in this situation”.
He admitted that the situation “could (go on for months or years). It
is, above all, a difficulty for Ecuador and for Mr Assange but this is a
strange position for an embassy to be in this position”. Hague said that
“diplomatic immunity exists to allow embassies and diplomats to exercise
proper diplomatic functions”.
The “harbouring of alleged criminals, or frustrating the due legal
process in a country, is not a permitted function,” he added.
“We will continue to work at it to try to bring a solution about.”
Lord Alex Carlile, a barrister by training from the ruling Liberal
Democrat party, told BBC TV that while be believed that both Assange and
the government of Ecuador had behaved “disgracefully”, Britain must now
“He has nowhere to go and when he does eventually emerge he will be
arrested and extradited to Sweden,” Carlile said. He warned that if
Britain stormed the embassy to remove Assange it could set a dangerous
precedent for British embassies and diplomatic missions abroad.
He compared the situation to if a young Iranian woman facing death
from stoning took refuge in the British embassy in Tehran, and Iranian
authorities decided to extract her using force.
“So I am afraid we are going to have to be patient,” Carlile said,
although he called on diplomats from other Latin American countries to
persuade Ecuador that they had acted “maladroitly” and change their