Julian Assange is seeking political asylum in Ecuador after arriving at the country’s embassy in Kensington this afternoon.
The Wikileaks founder is embroiled in a judicial battle over a European Arrest Warrant which could see him extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault.
The official Wikileaks Twitter feed confirmed the move at 7.40pm:
ALERT: Julian Assange has requested political asylum and is under the protection of the Ecuadorian embassy in Londonjustice4assange.com/donate.html
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 19, 2012
In a statement, the Embassy of Ecuador said:
This afternoon Mr Julian Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy seeking political asylum from the Ecuadorian government. As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito.
While the department assesses Mr Assange’s application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian Government. The decision to consider Mr Assange’s application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.
Under his existing bail conditions, he was required to obey a curfew. By not being in Kent by 10pm, he has breached them – with potential consequences for those who funded his bail.
Total bail bond on Julian Assange is £200,000 in cash. The high-profile supporters who posted it may now never see it again.
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) June 19, 2012
Jemima Khan, the NS‘s associate editor and a long-time supporter of Wikileaks who contributed to the bail fund, has confirmed that she was not made aware of Assange’s decision in advance:
@iankatz1000 Yes. I had expected him to face the allegations. I am as surprised as anyone by this.
— Jemima Khan (@Jemima_Khan) June 19, 2012
In a statement, the Swedish prosecutor involved in the case, Marianne Ny, said that she could not comment on the information. “An application for asylum is a matter between British and Ecuadorian authorities and, therefore, does not concern the investigation in Sweden.”
Questions are already being raised about Assange’s choice of Ecuador as a possible destination. Max Fisher writes at the Atlantic:
… whatever the rationale, would this really be the safest destination for a self-styled journalist and revolutionary? The Ecuadorian government at times imposes severe — and worsening — restrictions on journalists as well as critics of President Rafael Correa.
International NGOs describe Ecuador as a country that is increasingly hostile to both journalists and transparency advocates, neither of which would seem to bode well for Assange. Reporters Without Borders has chronicled one shut-down after another.
One of the recurring worries raised by Wikileaks and Assange has been the possibility that he would be extradited to the US, where he could face charges in relation to the leak of the embassy cables.
The New Statesman‘s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, adds:
— David Allen Green (@DavidAllenGreen) June 19, 2012