Ecuador paints EU countries as US stooges

17.08.12 @ 09:26

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Ecuador has granted asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange saying the UK and Sweden plan to hand him over to the US for "persecution."

  • Wikileaks founder Julian Assange helped leak thousands of classified US diplomatic cables. (Photo: acidpolly)

Its foreign ministry in a statement on its website on Thursday (16 August) said it granted his request on grounds that if the UK extradites him to Sweden, then Sweden will hand him over to the US, where he risks "persecution … [and] cruel and degrading treatment" in a military trial which could end in life in jail or the death penalty.

Despite its own track record of silencing government-critical journalists, it added that Assange, who helped leak thousands of classified US diplomatic cables, is "an award-winning communications professional renowned internationally for his struggle for freedom of expression, press freedom and human rights."

Its foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, in a press conference in Quito also complained about British "savagery" after the UK threatened to strip his embassy in London, where Assange took refuge in June, of diplomatic privileges and to send in police.

"It is basically saying, 'We are going to beat you savagely if you don't behave … but if you behave, we may not beat you savagely," the minister noted.

Patino was referring to a letter from the British officials - which Ecuador leaked - citing a British law designed to snatch people who are a threat to national security.

"You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the embassy. We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us," the letter said.

British foreign minister William Hague told press on Thursday that the extradition has nothing to do with Wikileaks.

"It is important to understand that this is not about Mr Assange’s activities at Wikileaks or the attitude of the United States of America.  He is wanted in Sweden to answer allegations of serious sexual offences," he said.

"The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum … even for those countries which do recognise diplomatic asylum, it should not be used for the purposes of escaping the regular processes of the courts. And in this case that is clearly what is happening," he added.

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt also defended his country's reputation.

"We have again informed the Ecuador Ambassador about the principles of our independent judicial system. And rejected unfounded allegations," he said on Twitter.

"Our firm legal and constitutional system guarantees the rights of each and everyone. We firmly reject any accusations to the contrary," he said in a separate Twitter post.

Bildt's spokesman, Anders Joerle, added that Swedish law forbids extradition of people to places where they risk capital punishment.

US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also deflected suggestions that the US is putting pressure on its EU friends.

"This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes … I have no information to indicate that there is any truth to that [allegations of US pressure] at all," she said in Washington on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the issue is spiralling into an international diplomatic crisis.

Ecuador has called for a snap meeting of Unasur, a quasi-EU club of South American countries, in Brazil on Sunday. The OAS, a club of North and South American countries, is also due to discuss the problem in Washington next week.

For its part, the EU is trying to steer clear of the affair.

"This is essentially a bilateral issue between the UK and Ecuador … [but] the EU delegation in Quito is following this case closely, in contact with the UK embassy," a spokesman for EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton told AFP.

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