reported yesterday on the threat by the U.K. to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in London, if Ecuador does not surrender Assange for extradition to Sweden to face charges on alleged sexual crimes.
Assange has been holed up in the embassy since June 19, awaiting a decision on an application for political asylum in Ecuador. He fears that should he be extradited to Sweden, he would then be sent on to the U.S. on espionage charges, relating to the release by WikiLeaks
of documents which embarrass the U.S. If this happens, he could be subjected to indefinite detention, torture or even execution.
Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters yesterday, "Today we've received a threat by the United Kingdom, a clear and written threat that they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange."
"Ecuador rejects in the most emphatic terms the explicit threat of the British official communication."
Patiño added that such a threat was "improper of a democratic, civilized and rule abiding country".
"If the measure announced in the British official communication is enacted, it will be interpreted by Ecuador as an unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act and as an attempt against our sovereignty. It would force us to respond," he said. "We are not a British colony," he added in anger.
The letter, addressed to the Ecuadorian Embassy, read:
"You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the U.K., the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987
, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy,” read the letter. "We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us."
Patiño noted that any entry by the U.K. authorities
to their ambassadorial premises in London would constitute a “flagrant violation” of Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
He said that Ecuador considers such a measure to be an “unacceptable act of hostility” against its sovereignty, adding that if implemented it would force Ecuador to “respond.”
Patiño further said that Ecuador will call for an urgent summit of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss the “threat” to a sovereign country in the region.
Patiño also stated that no threat would force Ecuador to give up the universal principles under which it continues to offer protection to Assange.
Despite this, the British Foreign Officer has stated that they are still "determined" to arrest Assange and extradite him to Sweden.
A Foreign Officer spokesperson said, “The U.K. has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offenses, and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation.” The spokesperson stressed that the U.K. is seeking a “diplomatically agreeable solution” to the issue.
The spokesperson added that the decision to strip the Ecuadorian Embassy of its diplomatic protection has not yet been taken and added that “Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection. We are not going to do this overnight.”
However, in the meantime, police apparently surrounded the embassy last night. According to Assange supporters, protesting at the scene, three police vans arrived at the building and police entered the lobby of the building, but later left.
Three hours ago, WikiLeaks tweeted
that there were five police vans outside of the embassy and that "Police have blocked off a major Harrods loading bay along the side of the embassy. Vehicles carrying tomorrow's supplies turned away."
Another user tweeted, "What profound respect for international law: of course we wouldn't enter an embassy - we'll just revoke its status as an embassy, then enter."
A live feed of the scene is available here
, Ecuador around 30 people yelling "England, what part don't you understand? We are sovereign!" protested outside the British Embassy, and apparently briefly trampled a British flag.
Kristinn Hrafnnsson, a spokesperson for WikiLeaks
, said in a statement on their website that the threat to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy was “extremely serious,” and said the group’s legal team considered it illegal.
In the video above, lawyer and author Eva Golinger, tells RT
that the letter received by the Ecuadorian embassy clearly states that the U.K. may act to arrest Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy and place him under British detention, prior to extraditing him to Sweden.
Gollinger says, “That’s clearly a violation of international law. It could clearly cause a rupture in relations. We don’t know what could happen beyond that in terms of violent physical interaction that could occur if the United Kingdom were to send its security forces into Ecuador’s embassy.”
Golinger said that the U.K. may believe that it can easily intimidate a small Latin American country like Ecuador:
“But I think if that’s what they’re thinking, the Brits have got it wrong on Latin American sovereignty, integrity and dignity, because that’s certainly not going to be a position that Ecuador is going to take, nor is Latin America as a region,” she added.
Golinger states that should Ecuador grant asylum to Assange, the country could face consequences on both economic and political planes:
“The UK could possibly call their ambassador back from Quito to London. The same would happen vice versa, so the Ecuadorian Ambassador would come back from London to Ecuador,” she said. “There could be further actions taken – there could pressure put on Ecuador via the United States in terms of economic sanctions.”
Foreign Minister Patiño has said that Ecuador has made its decision regarding Assange's asylum request, and will release this information on Thursday at 07h00 Ecuador time (12h00 GMT).
For those interested, there is an event planned by Anonymous London outside the Ecuadorian embassy today, which can be viewed here