Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa took to Twitter to dispel rumors that his government had granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum. Correa added that no decision has been made either way.
“Assange asylum rumor is false,” Correa confirmed on his Twitter feed. He added that he is waiting for a Foreign Ministry report on the issue, without which a decision will not be made.
On Monday, Correa said he hoped to make an official announcement on the issue “before the end of the week,” possibly following a meeting with Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and other diplomats in London scheduled for Wednesday.
According to an earlier report in The Guardian, Ecuador decided to grant Assange asylum. However, a representative of the Correa administration in Ecuador confirmed to RT by phone that no official decision has been made on whether to grant Assange asylum.
Assange requested political asylum after the British Supreme Court refused to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes. The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in the country’s London embassy since June 19.
Ecuador has always been supportive of the WikiLeaks and Assange, its leader. In May, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said in an appearance on the Julian Assange Show on RT that the time has come to put an end to the stereotypical wicked government that persecute journalists and news outlets. He welcomed Assange to the “club of the persecuted.” And in November 2010, Ecuador’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas said his country is “open to giving [Assange] residency in Ecuador.”
The asylum guarantees him safe passage from the UK to Ecuador, says Professor Donald Rothwell from the Australian National University College of Law.
In Sweden the whistleblower is wanted for questioning over accusations of sex crimes, but Assange and most of his supporters fear that once he arrived in Sweden, he would be handed over to US authorities.
Assange and his lawyers believe that the US has already lodged a sealed indictment against Assange, and that his case might outdo the one of Bradley Manning.
The whistleblower website founded by Julian Assange has leaked hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, including top secret documents from the US Department of Defense, and secret cables from the State Department.
‘Asylum would be a big step in the right direction’
Kevin Zeese, an attorney and member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, believes the decision to grant Assange asylum would be a big step in the right direction. There would still be a number of hurdles for Assange to overcome, however.
“The charges are still outstanding, and he needs to get safe passage out of Great Britain,” Zeese noted to RT. “It sounds like Ecuador has been trying to negotiate a great deal prior to making this decision, so maybe that’s already been done, but if not, that’ll be the next challenge: safe passage.”
Another roadblock Assange and Ecuador would have to keep in mind is the US military, which could try to prevent Assange from reaching Ecuador.
“Are they going to surround Assange’s plane with military planes and bring him down in Sweden, or bring him down in the United States, and force him to land outside of Ecuador?” he said. “It’s not a done deal.”
Zeese also pointed to fact that the Correa government could also face repercussions for its decision to grant Assange political asylum.
“The government of United States will do everything it can to put pressure on Ecuador to try to change its decision,” Zeese noted. “I think that Correa needs to make sure to watch out for his government’s survival. The United States has been well-known for organizing coups in Latin America. This is an ongoing struggle between the US Empire and Latin American countries, and it’s been a long-term one.”