The 40-year-old Assange is currently inside the building of the the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, having gone there on Tuesday afternoon to request asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.
The UK’s Supreme Court dismissed last week Assange’s bid to reopen an appeal against extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes and now he fears that if he is sent to Sweden it may lead to him being sent to the US to face charges over Wikileaks for which he could face the death penalty.
Ecuador’s embassy in London said in a statement that Assange arrived there on Tuesday afternoon to seek asylum, reports the BBC.
“As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito,” the statement said.
“While the department assesses Mr Assange’s application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian Government. The decision to consider Mr Assange’s application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.”
It later added: “In order to reach a proper decision in line with international law on Mr Assange’s application, the Ecuadorian government will be seeking the views of the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States of America.
“The Ecuadorian government will consider all the representations carefully as it is obliged to do under the accepted process in assessing such applications.”
Swedish prosecutors want to question WikiLeaks’ founder over allegations of rape and sexual assault while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture.
Assange says the sex was consensual and the allegations against him are politically motivated.
He is now on £200,000 bail which was provided by several high-profile supporters including socialite Jemima Khan and Ken Loach, who each offered £20,000 as surety.
Reuters reports that the situation threatens to inflame tensions between the government of Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s leftist and ardently anti-Washington president, and U.S. authorities, who accuse Assange of damaging its foreign relations with his leaks.
“Ecuador is studying and analyzing the request,” Patino told reporters in Quito. He added that any decision would be made with “respect for norms and principles of international law”.
He also said that Assange had written that he could not return to his home country because it would not block his extradition to “a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition”.
He appeared to be referring to the United States, because Sweden does not have the death penalty. Neither Sweden nor the United States has charged him with treason or spying.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Assange said: “I can confirm that today I arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum. This application has been passed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital Quito.
“I am grateful to the Ecuadorian ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is now in Mexico for the G20 summit, said Australian consular officials would continue to assist Assange, adding Australia opposed any extradition of Australian citizens on charges which carry the death penalty.
“Let’s be very clear about this. Australia opposes extradition in death penalty cases. We do that for every Australian citizen, we will do that for any Australian citizen,” Gillard told reporters.
“Our consular officials will be in contact with him, and also with Ecuador in London about this. But his decisions are for him to make,” Gillard said.
In 2010, Assange – whose Wikileaks website has published a lot of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses – was briefly offered Ecuadorean residency.
But the offer from the country’s deputy foreign minister was dismissed by President Rafael Correa who said he had not approved it.
Meanwhile, Wikileaks has posted an alert on its Twitter feed: “ALERT: Julian Assange has requested political asylum and is under the protection of the Ecuadorean embassy in London.”