Although the Ecuadorian government granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange yesterday morning, the British government has refused to allow him safe passage out of the country. The UK Foreign Office said that it would remain committed to extraditing Assange to Sweden, where he is accused of sexual crimes. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement, “Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We must carry out that obligation and of course we fully intend to do so.”
Tensions began escalating on Wednesday ahead of yesterday’s announcement, when the UK Foreign Office cautioned that it had legal standing to lift the embassy’s diplomatic status under Britain’s Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act and arrest Arrange. Ecuador, in turn, accused the UK of threatening to “assault” the embassy—a charge that the UK denied. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino upbraided the warning, calling it an “explicit type of blackmail.” Hague replied that the act of harboring Assange, an alleged criminal, is not “a permitted function under the Vienna Convention.”
Assange, who has been at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June 19, called yesterday’s decision a “significant victory.” Assange fears that, should he be extradited to Sweden, the Swedish authorities will turn him over to the United States where he is wanted for charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of State Department cables.