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Doors shut for Assange despite asylum

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was said to be "doing all right" on Friday after a stormy day marked by an angry diplomatic tussle over him. But, by all accounts, his options were running out, with the British government digging its heels in to secure his extradition to Sweden.

world Updated: Aug 18, 2012 03:00 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was said to be "doing all right" on Friday after a stormy day marked by an angry diplomatic tussle over him. But, by all accounts, his options were running out, with the British government digging its heels in to secure his extradition to Sweden.

Assange, who is wanted in Sweden on charges of sexual assault against two Swedish women in 2010, fears Stockholm will in turn extradite him to the US, where he faces the far more serious charges of espionage.

Assange, it is reported, could face months - even years - holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has a small room, a computer and internet access that have enabled him to keep Wikileaks running. British foreign secretary William Hague has dismissed Ecuador's offer of political asylum to Assange, saying it changes nothing.

The problem for Assange is that he will be arrested and deported to Sweden the moment he sets foot outside the Ecuadorian embassy. And that, by all accounts, is easy to do: the tiny embassy is really a flat inside a mansion block in Knightsbridge, central London.

One scenario is that Ecuador grants Assange citizenship and appoints him in a diplomatic position at the London embassy, which, in theory, would secure him diplomatic immunity. But the idea, backed by the left-wing writer Tariq Ali, appears to be a non-starter as host governments must approve all diplomatic appointments - and London is not likely to give Assange accreditation.

Another option is to spirit him out in a diplomatic vehicle, which cannot be searched. But Assange would still need to step out at the airport, at which point he will face arrest. In any case, extradition expert Anand Doobay said, Ecuador would be in breach of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations if it went ahead with this measure.

The last option for Assange is to surrender himself to British police and hope for the best once he gets to Stockholm but with the Americans said to be piling on pressure, that is, at best, a risky course of action.

For Britain, the likely scenario is that it will wait and watch. Hague has dismissed allegedly making threats to storm the embassy after British government officials on Wednesday sent a letter to Ecuadorean officials in Quito, outlining the provisions of a 1987 legislation under which Britain can revoke a building's diplomatic status.

In any case, Assange's friends said on Friday the campaigner is not too sure he wants to go to Ecuador, although he is grateful for the offer of political asylum.