Ecuador gives Assange asylum – but how will he escape UK?
Will Ecuador smuggle WikiLeaks boss out of embassy – or was asylum offer merely symbolic?
THERE is confusion this morning over how Julian Assange expects to get out of Britain to Ecuador where, The Guardian reports, he has now been granted political asylum by President Rafael Correa after taking refuge eight weeks ago in the country’s London embassy.
British authorities remain determined to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assault. Once in Sweden, Assange fears he might be extradited to the United States, where he believes he could face years in jail for leaking US diplomatic secrets.
A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday: "The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden. We are determined to fulfill this obligation."
That is taken to mean that the moment Assange steps out of the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, he will be liable to arrest. It could happen on the street outside the embassy or at the airport – there are regular flights to Quito from Heathrow and Gatwick – or at any point in between.
It would seem his only choice is to use subterfuge to get smuggled out of the embassy and use a non-commercial flight to reach Ecuador.
As Reuters reports, “It appears unlikely that the British government would give Assange safe passage to an airport as that would mean going against the Swedish arrest warrant and a ruling by Britain's own Supreme Court that the warrant was valid. It would also mean letting Assange get away with breaching his bail terms.”
Another possibility is that Ecuador’s offer was only symbolic – and that Assange is welcome to hole up in their embassy but will never actually be invited to Ecuador.
While Assange ponders that, a retired British ambassador, Oliver Miles, has described the ability of the WikiLeaks man to take shelter in the Ecuadorian embassy as "peculiar".
Miles says the British government should have asked Ecuador to hand over Assange as soon as it learnt that he had sought refuge. If the embassy refused, the ambassador should have been threatened with expulsion.