QUITO: Ecuador on Friday recalled its ambassador to Britain to discuss what to do about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has sought refuge in their diplomatic mission in London.
“We are calling our ambassador back for consultations because this is a very serious matter,” President Rafael Correa said.
Assange, an Australian national, sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy on Tuesday and asked Quito to give him asylum as he seeks to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of rape, fearing Stockholm will turn him over to the United States.
WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables that embarrassed a slew of governments.
“We are going to proceed cautiously, responsibly and seriously in this case, without bowing to absolutely any pressure,” Correa said.
Ecuador’s ambassador Ana Alban met with British authorities on Wednesday, and Correa said they had had a “very courteous communication” on London’s “point of view.”
“We will take it into account, but Ecuador will make the final decision” on whether to grant Assange’s request, he added.
“He says his life is in danger if he is extradited to the United States where they have the death penalty for political crimes,” Correa said. “He says this is political persecution and that the charges against him are a hoax.”
Assange, a former computer hacker, told Australia’s ABC radio Friday of his fears that he would end up in the hands of the United States, which he says wants to try him for divulging US secrets.
But he conceded there was no current US indictment against him.
“Of course not, at the moment the matter is before the grand jury,” he told ABC. “Until it comes out of the grand jury there will not be such evidence afforded.”
Correa, who has often been at odds with Washington, appeared to agree with Assange that the charges of rape and sexual assault he faces in Sweden had little substance.
“They are pretty dubious, to say the least,” he said, arguing that “no-one was violated, assaulted against their will, or abused.”
“This was a consensual relationship, but in Sweden it is considered rape if proper protection is not used, and you don’t say that you are not using protection. But otherwise this was a consenting relationship with two women.”
Correa stressed however that his comments did not prejudge what Ecuador’s decision would be on Assange’s request for asylum.
“We will make a decision at the right moment, and it will be a sovereign decision. Ecuador is not for sale, we won’t negotiate away our rights to grant asylum or not to any of the citizens of the world.”
Assange has said he chose Ecuador’s embassy instead of that of his home country’s because he felt Canberra had done nothing to protect him, a charge the government has denied.
“There are serious issues here, and they are being hidden by the slimy rhetoric coming out of the US ambassador to Australia, via (Australian Prime Minister Julia) Gillard... and that needs to stop,” said Assange.
Assange will remain inside the embassy while Ecuador considers his request, a process that could take “hours or days,” a spokesman for the whistleblower website said Thursday.
Britain's Supreme Court last week threw out Assange’s application to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden after a marathon legal battle.
He has until June 28 to lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, after which the extradition process can begin.
Assange is on $315,000 bail, put up by celebrity supporters including filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the former wife of Pakistan cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan.
The asylum bid is the most dramatic twist yet in a case dating back to December 2010, when Assange was first detained in London on a European arrest warrant.