Wed June 20, 2012
Assange Seeks Asylum At Ecuador's London Embassy
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, spent the night at the embassy of Ecuador in London. Yesterday, he unexpectedly walked into the embassy and requested political asylum. Assange is seeking to avoid being extradited from Britain to Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning about allegations of sex crimes, including rape. We're joined by NPR's Phil Reeves in London. Phil, why do this now?
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Because he's reached the end of the road, legally. After fighting for 18 months, he's exhausted his appeals against extradition in the British courts. He does still the option of asking the European Court of Human Rights to take up his case. But analysts here are doubtful that that would succeed.
It's worth remembering he's - Assange, who's Australian, believes that he is being politically persecuted because of WikiLeaks. And in particular, you'll recall the highly controversial publication of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables. His big worry is that if he's sent to Sweden, he'll eventually end up being dispatched from there to the U.S. to face espionage charges, placing him potentially at risk of the death penalty. So, instead, he headed along to the embassy of Ecuador in London, around the corner from Harrods, and asked for diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum.
WERTHEIMER: So why did he pick Ecuador?
REEVES: That's a very intriguing issue. I mean, while Assange has been out on bail, he's been presenting a TV show broadcast on state-run Russian TV. A month ago, he interviewed Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, on that show. It was a very unchallenging interview. They were very jokey together. At times, it was rather flattering of the president. The president called him my dear Julian. And the president also, by the way, talked about the fact that last year, Ecuador expelled the U.S. ambassador after WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables alleging corruption within the Ecuadorian police.
Now, it's not clear whether that interview, that connection played a part in his decision. It is clear, though, that it's causing some raised eyebrows. Assange has always championed free speech and civil rights. Ecuador does not have a particularly good record on that front.
WERTHEIMER: So, Phil, now Assange is bunking in with the Ecuadorans. What happens next?
REEVES: The British Foreign Office says that while he's in the embassy, he's beyond the reach of the British police. There's a handful of police officers, though, that are stationed outside the embassy. And if Assange steps outside, he would face arrest, because Scotland Yard is now saying that he's violated the terms of his bail. That raises the issue of what happens to the surety, the couple of hundred thousand pounds in bail money that was put up by his supporters, some of them well-known activists.
As to whether he could drive under some sort of diplomatic protection to the airport and catch a flight to Ecuador, that's just not clear. Theoretically, he would have to negotiate passage with the British authorities. But the speculation here is that what he really wants is an assurance from Sweden that if he goes there to answer the sex crime allegations against him, that he wouldn't be handed to the U.S.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Phil.
REEVES: You're welcome.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Philip Reeves, in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.