The long running legal battle to extradite WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange to Sweden to face sex crime allegations took a turn on Tuesday evening after he walked into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and requested political asylum under the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.
Assange stands accused by the Swedish government of raping one woman and sexually molesting another, both of which he has strongly denied. He was due to be extradited to Sweden in nine days after the UK Supreme Court ruled on May 30 that it was lawful and could go ahead.
Before walking into the Embassy he had been on bail and living with friends in Norfolk. The move comes just over a week after the court refused his requests to re-open the case to have his extradition to Sweden blocked. Should his plead for asylum be unsuccessful he faces arrest by British Police for breaching his bail terms by not returning to his bail address between the hours of 10pm and 8am.
In a letter sent to Ecuador's government, 40 year old Assange said his native country, Australia and its government had "effectively abandoned" him and was "ignoring the obligation to protect its citizen, who is persecuted politically." WikiLeaks' posted a message on Twitter saying, "ALERT: Julian Assange has requested political asylum and is under the protection of the Ecuadorian embassy in London."
Assange also released a statement confirming the move and thanking the Ecuadorian government: "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."
The Eduadorian government released a statement (below) stating that Assange was now in the care of its government, and would remain there until his application has been processed.
This afternoon Mr Julian Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy seeking political asylum from the Ecuadorian government. As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito.
While the department assesses Mr Assange's application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian Government. The decision to consider Mr Assange's application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.
In order to reach a proper decision in line with international law on Mr Assange's application, the Ecuadorian government will be seeking the views of the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States of America.
The Ecuadorian government will consider all the representations carefully as it is obliged to do under the accepted process in assessing such applications.