Ecuador asks UK to back non-extradition deal for Assange

By Ben Quinn, The Guardian
Friday, March 29, 2013 22:13 EDT
Julian Assange screenshot

Diplomat brings up subject of WikiLeaks founder taking refuge in embassy at meeting with shadow foreign secretary

Ecuadorean diplomats have raised the case of Julian Assange with the Labour party as part of attempts to lay the groundwork for a resolution of the diplomatic standoff between Britain and the South American state over the WikiLeaks’ founder.

As part of its continuing search for an end to the impasse, Ecuador has been seeking a commitment from the coalition that it would not support Assange’s onward extradition to the US should he choose to go to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

In an indication that the Ecuadoreans are now also setting their sights on a possible change of government after the 2015 election, Ecuador’s ambassador, Ana Alban, raised Assange’s case during a meeting with the shadow foreign minister, Kerry McCarthy.

The meeting had been requested by Ecuador to discuss environmental issues and bilateral trade, and the Labour side were taken by surprise when the Australian’s case was raised by the Ecuadoreans towards the end of the meeting.

A Labour source was eager to distance the party from the issue, saying: “The meeting was on the basis of a discussion about other issues and was one part of a series of regular contact meetings with foreign governments in London.

“This [Assange] is not a policy issue for the Labour party.”

The WikiLeaks founder has been living in the embassy in central London since June in order to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual offences. There is a permanent police guard and he will be arrested if he leaves the premises.

Ecuadorean diplomats have been in discussions with the Swedish and UK governments since Assange unexpectedly sought refuge at the embassy.

Discussions last year focused on what was likely to happen to him once legal proceedings in Sweden were completed, according to the Ecuadoreans.

A senior legal adviser to the embassy has said that the home secretary, Theresa May, would need to waive specialty – a legal concept that ensures an individual can only be extradited to one country – under section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003 before Assange could be extradited from Sweden to the US.

The Foreign Office has stated that the UK has a binding legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden to face questioning over the allegations.

Swedish prosecutors have dismissed claims that their case is part of a political move to see Assange stand trial in the US over his work with WikiLeaks.

© Guardian News and Media 2013