News24

Assange still holed up at embassy

2012-06-22 07:57

London - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will remain inside Ecuador's embassy in London until his case is resolved, in a process that could take "hours or days", a spokesperson for the whistleblower website said on Thursday.

The vow came after Ecuador's president Rafael Correa said his government would take its time in deciding whether to grant asylum to the Australian anti-secrecy campaigner, who spent a third day holed up in the embassy.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, the main spokesperson for WikiLeaks, told reporters after visiting Assange at the embassy across the road from the famous Harrods department store that his colleague was "in good spirits."

"The request is being processed by the Ecuadorian authorities. They are waiting for information from the UK, the US and the Swedish authorities," Hrafnsson said.

"He will stay until this matter is settled."

Misunderstanding

But he said reports on Wednesday quoting Ecuador's deputy foreign minister Marco Albuja as saying that Correa would give his instructions within 24 hours were "based on a misunderstanding by Australian media."

"It could take hours, it could take days. I have no idea. I assume that if asylum is not granted then he will leave the embassy and will be arrested," Hrafnsson said.

Assange, 40, turned up in the embassy on Tuesday and sought asylum in a dramatic bid to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Scotland Yard says Assange has breached his bail conditions and is now subject to arrest if he steps out of the embassy.

His conditions were that he should stay at his bail address in a house south of London between 22:00 and 08:00.

Britain's Foreign Office said however that because Assange was still on diplomatic territory he was "beyond the reach of the police".

Swift decision

A spokesperson for the ministry said they expected a swift decision.

"It is our understanding overnight that they are minded to reach a view in Quito today or in the very near future," said the spokesperson, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Three policeman stood guard on Thursday outside Ecuador's embassy, which is a flat in a mansion block in the upscale Knightsbridge area of central London.

Another two plainclothes officers sat in a car that carried a small police badge in the windscreen.

Around five protesters also gathered outside the building.

Correa, who was interviewed by Assange for the former hacker's television show, which airs on Moscow-backed broadcaster Russia Today, indicated that the decision-making process could stretch out.

Check his reasons

"He (Assange) presented his reasons. We are going to verify them... We will take the time necessary," Correa told AFP, adding that it would be done "with absolute seriousness and absolute responsibility."

The leftist leader, who has often been at odds with Washington, said his government was studying Assange's claim that he could be extradited from Sweden to the United States on political grounds and possibly sentenced to death.

"Ecuador is a country which defends the right to life. We have to see whether there is a threat to Julian Assange's life," Correa said on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development.

Britain's Supreme Court last week threw out Assange's application to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden after a marathon legal battle.

He has until June 28 to lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, after which the extradition process can begin.

Assange is on bail, paid by celebrity supporters including filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the former wife of Pakistan cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan.

Dramatic

The asylum bid is the most dramatic twist yet in a case dating back to December 2010, when Assange was first detained in London on a European arrest warrant.

Anna Alban, the Ecuadorian ambassador, said in a statement on Wednesday that she had held "cordial and constructive" talks about the asylum request with Britain's Foreign Office.

WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than 250 000 classified US diplomatic cables that embarrassed a slew of governments.