As Ecuador grants political asylum to Julian Assange, and his supporters celebrate, the U.K. stresses that it will block him from leaving the United Kingdom.
Ecuador today made a statement that Assange's request for political asylum has been granted. Ecuador's Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño, made the announcement, stressing that the country feels that the whistleblower's fears of being politically persecuted are justified.
While protesters celebrated outside the Ecuadorian embassy, with an Ecuadorian contingency chanting "Hands off Ecuador" and others shouting, "Assange freedom fighter," the U.K. Foreign Office announced that it is “disappointed” with Ecuador's decision.
However, they further say that this does not affect Britain's legal obligation to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to Sweden.
The Foreign and Commonwealth office's Twitter feed read, "We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act. Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal the UK authorities are under binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation."
The British government has stated that it has no intention of letting Assange leave the U.K., and that it will do everything in its power to block him from traveling to Ecuador.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, later made a statement in which he said that Ecuador knew the full legal context which affected their binding agreement to extradite Assange to Sweden. He further said that the decision to grant him asylum on behalf of Ecuador was regrettable.
In his statement in the above video, Hague said, "This does not change the fundamentals of the case. We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so."
Hague denied that there had ever been any implication that British police would storm the Ecuadorian embassy, in order to arrest Julian Assange. That is not what was understood by the Ecuadorians in a letter that was delivered to Quito.
The letter read, "You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, 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."
"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."
In response to that letter, which they say was a threat to violate their embassy in London, Ecuador issued a very strong statement of their own. As he began his speech today, Patiño extensively criticized the U.K.'s approach saying that such an act would be interpreted as “hostile and intolerable,” and an attack on Ecuador’s sovereignty that would provoke a dramatic diplomatic response.
Patiño said "I will hit you hard, but if you behave I might not," reminding that the UN and Vienna Conventions prohibit the violation of diplomatic space.
Lawyer, Rebecca Niblock said shortly after the news broke, "We're at something of an impasse. It's not a question of law anymore. It's a question of politics and diplomacy."
Meanwhile Sweden has summoned Ecuador's ambassador. Stockholm Foreign Ministry spokesman, Anders Jorie, has said, "We want to tell them that it's unacceptable that Ecuador is trying to stop the Swedish judicial process."
It is interesting to note, however, that Sweden turned down Ecuador's recent invitation to question Assange in the embassy. They want Assange extradited to Sweden for questioning over sexual allegations, and it seems they are only prepared to do this on their own turf, which only went to strengthen Assange's fears of onward extradition to the U.S.
All in all, things remain pretty much the same, with Assange trapped inside the Ecuadorian embassy and a nasty diplomatic spat going on between the U.K. and Ecuador.