TOPICS > World

U.K. Threatens Ecuador’s Diplomatic Status for Protecting Julian Assange

August 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the international tug-of-war over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

In 2010, his organization began publishing huge troves of U.S. diplomatic and military documents. There have been calls to prosecute him here.

Separately, he’s been charged with sexual assault in Sweden. And to avoid extradition to there, he’s been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for two months.

Today, Ecuador granted him asylum, but the story doesn’t stop there.

Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News reports.

JONATHAN MILLER: Ever since he jumped bail in June, this standoff was looming, police positioned outside the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Julian Assange the minute he stepped outside. He didn’t.

Members of the hackers group Anonymous were on the front line to support the founder of WikiLeaks, who, holed up in a small room inside the embassy for 56 days, was pinning his hopes on Quito granting him political asylum. There were three arrests among protesters. The press pack gathered force. The Ecuadorians expressed indignation over what they branded British hostility.

Then, from Ecuador, came the news Assange was waiting for.

FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATINO, Ecuador (through translator): The Ecuadorian government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek protection in its territory or in its diplomatic buildings, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange, following his request to the president of the republic.

JONATHAN MILLER: But Britain remains determined to extradite Australian-born Assange to Sweden, where he’s accused of rape and sexual assault on two former WikiLeaks supporters.

He exhausted his legal appeals against extradition in May. But Julian Assange suspects there’s a hidden agenda here, that he will end up being sent to the United States, where he fears prosecution over his whistle-blowing coup. He believes he’s a bona fide dissident, a victim of political persecution.

This is not the first standoff at a foreign embassy in London. In 1984, a policewoman policing a protest outside the Libyan Embassy was shot dead by someone inside. Embassy staff were eventually allowed to leave and were expelled from Britain.

It was after that terrible incident that Britain determined that never again should a foreign embassy in this country be allowed to be abused in that manner. And so, three years later, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act was introduced to allow the legal revocation of the diplomatic status of a building.

Last night, the Ecuadorian government leaked a letter they’d received from the Foreign Office, raising the specter of Britain enforcing this law.

“We very much hope not to get to this point,” the letter said, “but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr. Assange’s presence on your premises, this route is open to us.”

Standoff. This evening, in the face of Ecuadorian indignation, the foreign secretary stuck to his guns.

FOREIGN SECRETARY WILLIAM HAGUE, United Kingdom: There are no time limits. As I said, I think that is a problem more for the embassy and for Mr. Assange than for this country, except that we are going to fulfill our obligations under the extradition act to Sweden.

JONATHAN MILLER: So where on Earth does this go now? Well, absolutely nowhere for Julian Assange. He’s stuck.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And if you’re curious about other famous asylum-seekers, you can watch a slide show that includes Roman Polanski, Sitting Bull and others on our website.