The WikiLeaks founder visited the Ecuadorian embassy in London yesterday as part of a long-running legal bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on rape charges.
It is feared Swedish authorities will send Assange to the United States, where the government is reeling over a raft of hacked diplomatic cables which WikiLeaks published online.
Assange said in a statement yesterday: “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.”
Assange is due to be extradited to Sweden in nine days’ time. The 40-year-old is wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities over accusations of raping a woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August 2010 while on a visit to give a lecture. However, they have not charged him. He has defended, saying the sex was consensual and the allegations against him politically motivated.
The UK Supreme Court declared on May 30 that the extradition was lawful and could go ahead. However, instead of taking an appeal to Europe, Assange has opted to seek diplomatic protection from Ecuador, which first offered him asylum two years ago.
It is unsure why, since Ecuador has an extradition treaty to the United States.
Nonetheless, Ecuador and the UK are both signatories on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Assange has attempted to use to challenge his extradition.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino confirmed Assange had written to Ecuadorian president Rafael Correra, saying he was being persecuted, and that the government is analysing his request, from the capital, Quito.
Patino said the Australian had claimed “the authorities in his country will not defend his guarantees in front of any government or ignore the obligation to protect a politically persecuted citizen”, putting him in a state of “helplessness”.