WikiLeaks founder Assange faces arrest

2012-06-20 17:18
Police officers stand outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum. (Max Nash/PA Wire, AP)

Police officers stand outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum. (Max Nash/PA Wire, AP) (Max Nash)

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London - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is seeking political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, has breached bail conditions and faces arrest, police said on Wednesday.

Assange spent the night in the embassy in central London on Wednesday after making a dramatic bid to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes.

The 40-year-old Australian walked into the embassy on Tuesday and claimed asylum under the United Nations human rights declaration, as time runs out in his marathon legal battle to avoid being sent to Sweden.

Ecuador has said it is examining the request, the latest twist in a case dating back to December 2010 when the former computer hacker was first detained in London on a European arrest warrant.

The embassy said Assange would remain in the building under the protection of the Ecuadorian government while his application is considered.

Police said that by spending the night there, Assange had breached conditions to stay at his bail address between 22:00 and 08:00 and "he is now subject to arrest under the Bail Act for breach of these conditions".

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

"We are in touch with the Ecuadorian authorities on this situation," a spokesperson said.

A police officer entered the embassy and left again after a short time late on Tuesday, but there was no sign of the white-haired anti-secrecy campaigner.

European Court of Human Rights

A group of eight supporters gathered outside the embassy in the upmarket Knightsbridge district, waving "Free Assange" placards.

Assange exhausted all legal options in Britain last week when the Supreme Court refused to reopen his appeal against extradition.

He has until June 28 to lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

He confirmed in a statement he was seeking "diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum" and expressed gratitude to Ecuador for considering his request.

The embassy said in a statement: "The decision to consider Mr Assange's application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden."

It confirmed it would be seeking the views of London, Stockholm and Washington to ensure it complied with international law.

Assange denies the allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers and maintains the moves to extradite him to Sweden are politically motivated.

He believes the ultimate aim is for him to be handed over to US authorities.

WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fears for his life

It also published more than 250 000 classified US diplomatic cables, revealing often candid assessments of a huge range of issues as well as the views of other governments.

Vaughan Smith, a supporter of Assange who hosted him at his country mansion for 13 months, said he was surprised at the move to seek political asylum.

But Smith told BBC television: "I genuinely believe that he fears for his life and he fears that if he goes to Sweden he'll be sent to America.

"And you only need to look at the treatment of Bradley Manning by the Americans to feel that he's right to be fearful."

Manning, a US soldier, is facing trial on charges of passing a huge cache of documents to WikiLeaks.

Assange is on €300 000 bail, put up by celebrity supporters including filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the former wife of Pakistan cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan.

His mother Christine said her son's decision to turn to Ecuador was a "last desperate effort".

"No doubt the Americans are intimidating Ecuador right now to try and back off," she told reporters.

Ecuador offered Assange residency in 2010 after expressing concern about some of the alleged US activities revealed by WikiLeaks.

Assange interviewed Ecuador's President Rafael Correa for his talk show aired by Russia's RT television station in April.

Helena Kennedy, an attorney who has advised Assange's legal team, told BBC radio that the next steps could include negotiations with Sweden to secure an undertaking that he would not be sent to the US.

If that is received, "I imagine the Ecuadorians will be happy to let him proceed to Sweden," she said.

Read more on:    wikileaks  |  julian assange  |  equador  |  uk  |  sweden  |  internet security
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