WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 41, who has been in hiding out in Ecuador’s London embassy since June 19, was granted refugee status today by the government of Ecuador. Assange faces “serious sexual assault” charges in Sweden and extradition to that country, which according to the Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, opens the door to unjust prosecution by the U.S., “he would not have a fair trial, could be judged by special or military courts, and it’s not implausible that cruel and degrading treatment could be applied, that he could be condemned to life in prison, or the death penalty.”
Patino said that all of Ecuador’s efforts to obtain guarantees from Britain, the U.S. and Sweden that Assange would not be extradited to the U.S. were rebuffed. The Swedish government and the women bringing the allegations insist that the charges against Assange are genuine. What had up to this point been an issue of law has now become an issue of international politics. British Foreign Secretary William Hague states that Britain has no plans to allow Assange safe passage to Latin America because, as he says, “There is no legal basis for us to do so.”
The Swedish government is understandably quite upset about being taken for a pawn in the U.S. game to get Assange to trial for his publication of hundreds of thousands internal U.S. embassy cables that shed a negative light on the the U.S. and its dealings. Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, took to the Internet and tweeted “our firm legal and constitutional system guarantees the rights of each and every one. We firmly reject any accusations to the contrary.”
The diplomatic game is most definitely afoot, and tensions between the U.K. and Ecuador are mounting, especially since there is one more, un-played card in the hands of the British: A little known 1987 British law that gives representatives of the U.K. the right to enter the embassy to arrest Assange, regardless of his refugee status. Such an act would certainly fray diplomatic relations between Britain and Ecuador even further, perhaps even placing British embassy personnel around the world in danger. What remains to be seen is how far the situation will escalate before a decision is reached.