Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño announced on Thursday that his country will grant political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the past two months. That doesn’t mean that the coast is clear for Assange to leave, however.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague responded in a statement that the U.K. is “determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Julian Assange extradited to Sweden,” where he faces charges of rape and sexual assault.
British authorities are not legally bound to to abide by Ecuador’s decision, meaning there is no assurance that Assange would not be arrested while attempting to reach an airport or train. In fact, Hague has given the clearest indication that Britain has no intention of letting Assange through.
“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 said. “The United Kingdom does not recognize the principle of diplomatic asylum.”
Hague was careful to emphasize that Britain’s determination to carry out its “obligations as a nation under the Extradition Act,” were in no way connected to Assange’s controversial role in the leaking of confidential government files related to the Iraq and Afghanistan war, or the United States’ desire to see him brought to justice, but due to his pending arrest for allegations of sexual assault in Sweden.
Patiño insisted at a news conference in Quito that Assange would not receive a fair trial if transferred to the United States.
Assuming Assange avoids arrest while leaving the embassy, he could enter a diplomatic vehicle, which is protected under international law and cannot be seized or detained. Policemen could stop the car, but would not be able to physically remove Assange from it. Unfortunately for Assange, the Ecuadorean Embassy lacks a parking lot, meaning that he would be exposed as he’s transferred to the vehicle.
A long-shot proposal involves channeling Assange out via a “diplomatic bag”, a legally protected container allowing countries to send and receive documents.
Most likely, however, Assange will remain at the embassy indefinitely, safe from British authorities, but with his future up in the air.