WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange
Ecuador's foreign minister announced on Thursday that the country would grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, defying threats by the British government to storm the Ecuadorean Embassy and extradite Assange to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in cases of alleged rape and sexual molestation.
"We have decided to grant political asylum to him," Ricardo Patino said at the end of a long televised statement from the Ecuadorean capital of Quito, where he criticized the U.S. and U.K. governments for failing to protect Assange from political persecution, reports The Lookout.
"The countries that have a right to protect Assange have failed him," Patino said. "[Assange] is victim of political persecution. ... If Assange is extradited to U.S., he will not receive a fair trial."
The foreign minister said that Ecuador asked Sweden to promise it would not extradite Assange to the United States, but Sweden refused.
"Asylum is a fundamental human right," Patino said, adding that "international law" overrides local laws, and that Assange has "the right not to be extradited or expelled to any country."
A crowd gathered outside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Assange, a 41-year-old Australian native, has been holed up since June, to hear the announcement. At least one protester was arrested.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office called Ecuador's decision to grant Assange asylum "regrettable."
"British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden," a spokesman for the office said. "We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorean government's decision this afternoon does not change that."
According to The Associated Press, Sweden summoned Ecuador's ambassador to Stockholm, calling the decision to grant asylum to Assange "unacceptable."
Moments before the announcement, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa tweeted: "No one is going to terrorize us!"