Ecuador floats withdrawing asylum as impasse intensifies over WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange
WikiLeaks and Ecuador were at odds Friday over the situation surrounding the anti-secrecy group’s founder, Julian Assange, amid claims of his imminent expulsion from the country’s London embassy.
Deteriorating relations between Ecuador and Mr. Assange, an Australian taking refuge in the embassy since 2012, culminated in WikiLeaks claiming on Twitter that his eviction could happen within “hours to days,” citing an unnamed senior government official.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Jose Valencia, dismissed reports concerning Mr. Assange’s potential removal from the embassy as “unfounded rumors” but indicated Quito could follow through by rescinding his status as an asylum.
“Diplomatic asylum is a sovereign power of a state, which has the right to grant or withdraw unilaterally when it considers justified,” Mr. Valencia reacted on Twitter.
Mr. Assange, 47, entered the Ecuadorian Embassy nearly seven years ago to seek protection from prosecution in the U.S., where he expects to face criminal charges related to WikiLeaks and its unauthorized publication of classified material dating back to 2010. He received asylum within weeks from Ecuador’s president at the time, Rafael Correa, but risks being punted from the embassy on account of aggravating the current administration in Quito.
Speaking to Ecuadorian media earlier this week, President Lenn Moreno claimed Mr. Assange has “repeatedly violated” the terms of his asylum and blamed WikiLeaks without evidence of intercepting “photos of my bedroom, what I eat, and how my wife and daughters and friends dance.”
Mr. Assange was under house arrest for unrelated charges when he entered the embassy, and British authorities all determined he violated the terms of his bail and should be apprehended upon exiting.
“I’m convinced that Julian expects to be thrown out,” journalist Vaughan Smith told reporters gathered outside the embassy Friday afternoon moments after visiting Mr. Assange inside.
“I don’t think he’s entirely clear about what’s going on, but he’s certainly very stressed and prepared that that might happen,” Mr. Smith added.
The U.S. Department of Justice has refused to confirm or deny the existence of any criminal case personally targeting the WikiLeaks publisher, but outlets including The Associated Press and The Washington Post have reported that he indeed been charged under seal by federal prosecutors.
Mr. Assange co-founded WikiLeaks in 2006. He served as the website’s editor-in-chief until last year.