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WIKILEAKS

Ecuador mulls Assange asylum bid: president

Ecuador is weighing whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's request for political asylum is motivated by fears of a death sentence or persecution for ideological reasons, its president told AFP late Wednesday on the sidelines of a UN summit.

Ecuador mulls Assange asylum bid: president

“Ecuador is a country which defends the right to life. We have to see whether there is a threat to Julian Assange’s life,” President Rafael Correa told AFP.

Assange turned up in Ecuador’s embassy in London on Tuesday in a dramatic bid to avoid extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes.

Assange maintains that the allegations are politically motivated and that Sweden will deport him to the United States to be put on trial for WikiLeaks’ disclosure of a huge trove of US classified documents.

“We will take the time necessary because this is a very serious affair that we take with absolute responsibility,” President Rafael Correa said on Wednesday in an interview with the South American cable TV network Telesur.

The leftist Ecuadoran leader, who has often been at odds with Washington, was attending the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development.

“Ecuador is a country which defends due process. We have to assess whether

he was accorded due process. Ecuador is a country which rejects persecution on ideological grounds,” Correa told AFP.

“He (Assange) presented his reasons. We are going to verify them…We will take the time necessary, with absolute seriousness and absolute responsibility,” he added.

Correa said Assange’s asylum request was the “best answer” to those who say

there is no freedom of expression in Ecuador.

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino had earlier said on his Twitter account that the government was studying Assange’s charge that he risks being tried for political reasons and could be sentenced to death.

“Ecuador declares that it will protect the human right to life and to freedom of expression,” Patino said, adding that Assange’s request for political asylum “requires profound analysis.”

With time running out in his marathon legal battle to avoid being sent to Stockholm, the 40-year-old Australian walked into the embassy Tuesday and claimed asylum under the United Nations human rights declaration.

The request is the latest twist in a case dating back to December 2010 when the founder of the whistle-blowing website was first detained in London on a European arrest warrant.

Anna Alban, the Ecuadorian ambassador, said in a statement on Wednesday that she had held “cordial and constructive” talks about the asylum bid with Britain’s Foreign Office.

“I also emphasised to the UK government that it was not the intention of the Ecuadorian government to interfere with the processes of either the UK or Swedish governments,” she added.

The embassy said Assange would remain in the building under the protection of the Ecuadorian government while his application is considered.

But police said that by spending the night there, Assange had breached conditions to stay at his bail address between 10pm and 8am and “he is now subject to arrest under the Bail Act for breach of these conditions”.

Britain’s Foreign Office said however that because Assange was still on diplomatic territory he was “beyond the reach of the police”.

A group of eight supporters gathered outside the building in the upmarket Knightsbridge district, waving “Free Assange” placards.

The embassy confirmed it would be seeking the views of London, Stockholm and Washington to ensure it complied with international law.

Assange exhausted all legal options in Britain last week when the Supreme Court refused to reopen his appeal against extradition.

He has until June 28th to lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The Sydney Morning Herald, citing Wikileaks insiders, said Assange’s decision to seek asylum was triggered by a letter from Australia’s Attorney

General Nicola Roxon, which he took as a “declaration of abandonment”.

In the letter to one of Assange’s legal representatives Roxon made it clear that Canberra would not seek to involve itself in any international exchanges about his future.

WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than

250,000 classified US diplomatic cables that embarrassed a slew of governments.

Vaughan Smith, a supporter of Assange who hosted him at his country mansion for 13 months, told BBC television:

“I genuinely believe that he fears for his life and he fears that if he goes to Sweden he’ll be sent to America.

“And you only need to look at the treatment of Bradley Manning by the Americans to feel that he’s right to be fearful.”

Manning, a US soldier, is facing trial on charges of passing a huge cache of documents to WikiLeaks.

Assange is on £240,000 ($380,000, 300,000 euros) bail, put up by celebrity supporters including filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the former wife of Pakistan cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan.

Ecuador offered Assange residency in 2010 after expressing concern about

some of the alleged US activities revealed by WikiLeaks.

Although Quito later backtracked on the residency offer, Assange appeared to hit it off with Correa in April in a talk show interview aired by Russia Today, a television network that backs Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Correa welcomed Assange to the “club of the persecuted” in the interview, and Assange reciprocated by expressing support for Correa in his bitter battles with Ecuador’s privately owned media.

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JULIAN ASSANGE

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer

Julian Assange would cooperate with Swedish authorities if they reopen a rape case against him but will continue to resist any bid to extradite him to the United States, his lawyer said Sunday.

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer
Julian Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson in London on Thursday. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham/TT

“We are absolutely happy to answer those queries if and when they come up,” Jennifer Robinson told Sky News television about the rape claims.

“The key issue at the moment is US extradition, which we have warned about for many years,” she added.

The WikiLeaks founder is in custody in London awaiting sentencing for breaching his British bail conditions in 2012 by seeking refuge in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was arrested at the embassy on Thursday after Ecuador gave him up, and is now also fighting a US extradition warrant relating to the release by WikiLeaks of a huge cache of official documents.

The Australian has always denied the claims of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. The first expired in 2015 and the other was dropped in 2017, but the alleged rape victim has now asked for the case to be reopened.

If Stockholm makes a formal extradition request, the British government will have to decide whether to consider it before or after that of the United States.

Robinson said Assange would seek assurances from Sweden that he would not be sent on to America, saying: “That is the same assurance we were seeking in 2010 and the refusal to give that is why he sought asylum.”

She added: “He's not above the law. Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice or indeed Swedish justice. This case is and has always been about his concern about being sent to face American injustice.”

The US indictment charges Assange with “conspiracy” for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on Department of Defence computers in March 2010.

He faces up to five years in jail.

Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries around the world.

The conspiracy charge against Assange seems intended to sidestep limits on prosecution potentially arising from the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of press freedom.

But Robinson insisted: “This indictment clearly engages newsgathering activities and the kinds of communications that journalists have with sources all the time.”

The lawyer condemned as “outrageous” claims made by Ecuador about Assange's behaviour in the embassy, including that he smeared his faeces on the wall, saying: “That's not true.”

Quito also accused him of failing to care for his cat. WikiLeaks said Assange had asked his lawyers to “rescue him (the cat) from embassy threats” in October, adding: “They will be reunited in freedom.”

Assange's father, John Shipton, on Sunday urged Australia to bring his son home.

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