Jamie Grierson, Haroon Siddique and Patrick Wintour – The Guardian
Fears that WikiLeaks founder will be extradited to the US if he leaves London embassy
Supporters of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gathered outside the Ecuadorian embassy in central London after the organisation said its sources in Ecuador had revealed he could be removed from the building “within hours to days”.
Ecuador’s foreign ministry released a statement saying it “doesn’t comment on rumours, theories or conjectures that don’t have any documented backing”, but a senior Ecuadorian official said no decision had been made.
WikiLeaks believes Assange would be extradited to the US if he left the building and was arrested by the Metropolitan police on an outstanding warrant for failing to surrender to bail.
An advertising lorry displaying a billboard with photos of Assange and Chelsea Manning with US flag gags across their mouths and the words “#Freespeech … except for war crimes” was briefly parked directly in front of the embassy.
It was moved on after an armed officer from diplomatic protection told the driver he had had a complaint from the embassy that the vehicle was blocking its diplomatic parking spot. He stressed that his objection to the vehicle was solely about where it was parked.
Supporters handed out leaflets urging people to write to their MPs to defend WikiLeaks and took turns to hold up a banner saying: “The truth will set you free. Free Julian Assange.”
Fethi, 52, a gardener from London, said he had come to protest because he feared Assange would be bundled away like Chelsea Manning to be imprisoned in the US.
“It’s the new government in Ecuador trying to make a present to Donald Trump,” he said. “Theresa May will send him [Assange] to the US straight away. We’re here to support free speech, we’re here to support Julian Assange. We are worried the police will arrest him. He exposed governments around the world.”
A member of staff inside the six-storey building declined to comment.
A spokesman for the British prime minister said: “It’s obviously a matter for the Ecuadorian government. You’ll know that there has been official contact between the UK government and the Ecuadorian government for a period of time now to try to seek a resolution to this. But I don’t have anything on the reports.”
Assange has been in the embassy since 2012 after he sought refuge there following a ruling that he should be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.
Sweden dropped the case in 2017 but Assange remained in the embassy due to the outstanding Met police warrant. He fears an arrest by British police will lead to him being extradited to the US to face charges over the WikiLeaks website’s release of sensitive US government files.
Why is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Ecuador’s embassy?
Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent – The Guardian
As it is rumoured that Ecuador is to expel Assange, we trace his route to asylum in London
Rumours are rife that Julian Assange will soon be released from the Ecuadorian embassy in London after the organisation he founded, WikiLeaks, suggested his exit was imminent.
WikiLeaks tweeted that a high-level source within the Ecuadorian state told it Assange will be expelled from the embassy within “hours or days”. But a senior Ecuadorian official said no decision had been made to remove him from the building.
Why is Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy?
In August 2010, an arrest warrant was issued for Assange for two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation – after he visited Sweden for a speaking trip. He was questioned by police in Stockholm and denied the allegations.
Assange revealed his fears that if he were extradited to Sweden, he would then be extradited again to the US to face charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US government files.
After an international arrest warrant was issued by Swedish police through Interpol, Assange presented himself to the Metropolitan police in December 2010 and appeared at an extradition hearing, where he was granted bail.
Following a couple of years of legal battles, UK courts ruled Assange should be extradited to Sweden, and the WikiLeaks founder entered the Ecuadorian embassy in August 2012 seeking political asylum, which was granted.
What happened to the charges in Sweden?
Swedish prosecutors dropped a preliminary investigation into the allegation of rape in May 2017, stating that “at this point, all possibilities to conduct the investigation are exhausted”.
The separate allegations of sexual assault, made by a second Swedish woman, were dropped by Swedish authorities in 2015 after the statute of limitations expired.
Why doesn’t he just leave the embassy?
The Met issued a warrant for his arrest after he failed to surrender to the conditional bail set in December 2010 – this warrant remains.
In January 2018, lawyers for Assange attempted to have the warrant torn up on the grounds it has “lost its purpose and its function”.
But in February of that year, Westminster magistrates court said the UK arrest warrant was still valid. Assange said he continues to fear an arrest on British soil would ultimately lead to extradition to the US.
Do the Americans still want him?
We don’t know for sure. But a mistake in a document filed by the US authorities, which emerged in November last year in an unrelated case, hinted criminal charges may have been prepared in secret.
The text of the court filing, which relates to a completely separate case, includes two mentions of someone called Assange, including a suggestion that the documentation in the case “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges”.
In January, lawyers for Assange said they are taking action aimed at making Donald Trump’s administration reveal charges “secretly filed” against the WikiLeaks founder.