WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who arrived at the Ecuadorian embassy in London Tuesday evening, seeking political asylum in Ecuador, has breached his bail conditions and is now subject to arrest if he leaves the embassy, police said Wednesday.
Last week, Britain's high court refused a request to reconsider Assange's extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes. Assange has maintained that the charges and subsequent extradition are politically motivated and aimed at silencing his governmental transparency work. He maintains that an extradition to Sweden will ensure an eventual extradition to the US were he could face charges of espionage and a potential life sentence.
According to Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents Assange in the US, Assange sought political asylum because he would not "see the light of day for 40 years" if he was extradited to Sweden.
Ratner said Assange and his legal team considered it highly likely that he would face extradition to the US if he were sent to Sweden. "The concrete reality [is] that he was facing a political prosecution in the US, he was facing the death penalty or certainly life in jail. Faced with that, he had extremely limited choices," Ratner stated.
Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer and a contributing writer at Salon writes today, "the evidence that the US seeks to prosecute and extradite Assange is substantial."
"There is no question that the Obama justice department has convened an active grand jury to investigate whether WikiLeaks violated the draconian Espionage Act of 1917. Key senators from President Obama's party, including Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, have publicly called for his prosecution under that statute. A leaked email from the security firm Stratfor...indicated that a sealed indictment has already been obtained against him. Prominent American figures in both parties have demanded Assange's lifelong imprisonment, called him a terrorist, and even advocated his assassination...as a foreign national accused of harming US national security, he has every reason to want to avoid ending up in the travesty known as the American judicial system."
Assange is still waiting to hear whether or not Ecuador will accept his plea; however, even if Ecuador does grant Assange asylum, UK law does not guarantee a safe passage out of the country.
News crews and a dozen supporters bearing "Free Assange" signs gathered outside the embassy today.
The Guardian/UK is providing a live blog here.
* * *
* * *
Julian Assange risks being thrown into a cell the moment he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy in London after breaching bail to avoid extradition to Sweden.
The Australian former computer hacker, who enraged Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published secret U.S. diplomatic cables, is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sex crime allegations. He says he fears he could be bundled to the United States where his life would be at risk.
News crews and a dozen supporters bearing "Free Assange" placards gathered outside the embassy, a five-storey red-brick building in the upmarket district of Knightsbridge where Assange sought refuge on Tuesday.
There was no sighting of Assange, whose distinctive white-blond hair has helped make him instantly recognisable around the world. A reporter from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organisation based at London's City University, was permitted inside to see Assange and said he was in good spirits.
Ecuador said Assange had expressed fears that if sent to Sweden he would be extradited onwards to the United States where he believes he could face criminal charges punishable by death.
* * *
Julian Assange sought political asylum because he believed he would not "see the light of day for 40 years" if he was extradited to Sweden, according to his New York-based lawyer.
Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the WikiLeaks founder in the US, said Assange and his legal team considered it highly likely that he would face an onward extradition to the US if he were sent to Sweden.
"The concrete reality [is] that he was facing a political prosecution in the US, he was facing the death penalty or certainly life in jail. Faced with that, he had extremely limited choices."
Barring a last-ditch appeal to the European court of human rights, Assange could have expected to be extradited imminently, after the supreme court rejected the very last of his attempts to resist removal to Sweden over accusations of sex assaults made by two women in August 2010.
The Assange team believe the US is likely to seek to prosecute him on espionage charges, which carries a potential death penalty, and that his chances of resisting any such extradition warrant would be more difficult in Sweden, where he would not receive bail during investigations into the alleged sex crimes and where his lawyers believe political and public opposition to a US extradition claim would be weaker.
The US empanelled a secret grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks and Assange in May 2011, but has not issued any requests for his extradition to the UK or Sweden. However Ratner said that both he and Assange believed it was "more likely than not" that a sealed indictment had been drawn up.
Assange's legal adviser Jennifer Robinson said in February that she and Assange had discussed the possibility of his seeking political asylum. Ratner said he had had no warning of the plan, however.
Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, said on Tuesday that the Wikileaks founder had personally written to the country's president, Rafael Correa, to ask for asylum. Assange interviewed Correa last month for his TV show The World Tomorrow, broadcast on the Russian state-sponsored channel Russia Today.
It was during this interview that an offer of asylum was made, the Associated Press reported, quoting a woman who had been present during the interview but had spoken on condition of anonymity. It did not say whether the offer was personally made by Correa.
# # #