Audio: Ecuador under pressure from UK over Assange asylum

16 August, 2012 22:08 — Voice of Russia

Ricardo Patino

Ricardo Patino Photo: AFP

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Transcript follows:It is Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino who spoke for 40 minutes today when announcing Ecuador’s decision to grant Julian Assange asylum. He spoke at a press conference in Quito. He brought up many of Ecuador’s issues with Britain. They are very angry at the way Britain has dealt with this over the past couple of days. He said they received a letter last night from the UK that was threatening that they could in his words storm the Ecuadorian Embassy in London if Ecuador does grant asylum to Julian Assange. He spoke about why Ecuador has granted and made this decision. Basically Ecuador believes Julian Assange’s fears are legitimate and that he has been a victim of persecution from various governments and he is in great danger.

But this is something fresh, or an untrodden ground, isn’t it, for the diplomatic community because Assange feels he is safe, that he is inside the Embassy but we understand a British foreign office is not so sure?

That’s right. Traditionally and according to international convention, while Assange is in the Embassy he is in what’s called diplomatic territory, that means local laws and British police can’t go in and arrest him. Of course, they want to arrest him for breaching his bail, while he has been fighting extradition to Sweden. But now because of this letter and Britain has cited there was a law dating back to 1997 which apparently does offer a legal base for the UK to go inside the Embassy and arrest him. Now even though Ecuador today has granted this asylum to Julian Assange, it’s very unclear what will happen next. We don’t know how he can possibly get from London, leaving the Embassy and get to Ecuador.

Because he physically can’t get from the building to reach the airport or wherever the plane would take him.

That’s what remains unclear. The foreign office has said they regret Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum and that they would still like to negotiate a settlement that allows them to fulfill their obligations and that they want to see Assange extradited to Sweden but today Ecuador said it trusts the UK will offer the guarantee to safe passage for Assange and it also trusts that Ecuador’s friendship with the United Kingdom will remain intact. That’s looking down at this stage because it is diplomatic spat.

And you this week, in fact yesterday spoke to Julian Assange’s mother who herself has been to Ecuador. I mean she seems to be very pro of the idea of her son ending up there.

That’s right. This seems to have been something that sort of been in the pipeline for sometime, this communication with Ecuador and a thought of Julian Assange going there and seeking for political asylum. Christine Assange was there 2 weeks ago. She met with President Rafael Correa, she also met with Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino. She was very impressed with Ecuador’s way of doing things there, prominence they give him in riots and the time they’ve had Julian Assange. She said she’d be happy to live there and she’d be happy for her son to live there too.

Vivienne Nunis, thank you very much. We will obivously keep a watch on this for any further developments and bring them to you.

In anticipation of the announcement from Ecuador there’s been a heavy police presence outside the London Embassy where Julian Assange has been in refuge. And supporters of Wikileaks and Assange were out today to show their solidarity.

Our reporter Polina Boiko went down there to watch the proceedings.

Polina, what was the atmosphere like outside the Embassy? How many people were there?

There were a lot of people there. As the time for the announcement was nearing the crowd was getting bigger and bigger. So, there was a massive amount of press there, a lot of journalists waiting to hear the announcement, a lot of police, but also a lot of demontrators, demonstrators coming from several different camps. There were definitely the members of the group “Anonymous” there who campaign for freedom of information. They were wearing masks, but half a dozen of them saying that they are in support of Julian Assange there because they support Wikileaks and what it stands for. But there was also a large group of people from Ecuador who were shouting slogans like “hands of Ecuador” because they were clearly unhappy with this letter that was made public from the foreign ministry saying that they would perhaps be able to enter the Embassy and arrest Julian Assange inside. So, a lot of people and it seems like there were more people that were very angry about that development as opposed to just supporters of Julian Assange. And a lot of very independent, just peaceful supporters standing there and waiting to hear the announcement. Here is what the crowd was chanting, “There is only one decision – no extradition, there is only one decision – no extradition”.

So, when the news came out that in fact Ecuador would grant asylum if Assange can get to Ecuador, how did those demonstrators react?

It was a very strange moment because it wasn’t an announcement that was made outside the Embassy, that everyone was actually waiting for. So, the news were quietly sipping through the journalists that were receiving the twits and emails but suddenly they stopped chanting and people were just very happily chatting, the sun came out, because before that it was suddenly raining very hard, and here are some reactions of the people who were standing outside,

“- I am happy because I am a person who believes in human rights, I don’t believe in death penalty and as Mr. Assange has said that if he is extradited to the United States, he believes he will be killed. So, I don’t believe in it and I support him for that.

– And you are an Ecuadorian yourself? I am Ecuadorian myself, I am British as well anyway.”

“- Being a witness of whole this historic moment I think is great. I just hope he really needs to be free, you know. I love this Embassy.”

“- I am really pleased that finally they granted asylum and I am really glad that Ecuador can actually take part in protecting the human rights and the right to free speech.”

“- I am so glad. I mean, this should have happened without a crowd that was coming out here and everything”.

“- I am here because I think that ultimately this whole event goes back to the United States wanting Assange. This is not about a Swedish sex crime, non of this would be happening if the US weren’t trying to extradite Assange. And I am an American and I have watched my country slowly destroy and dismantle its own press freedoms. One of the sad state of affairs now is that Americans, everybody who came here, people from the UK, people from America, we are actually at risk by coming out here. I worry about being able to go back into my own country that I’ll be hassled going into my own country. I worry about my visa status in the UK, by even coming out and speaking. That shouldn’t be happening in these countries.”

Those were people making their feelings known outside the Ecuadorian Embassy. Polina, was there any trouble? Was anyone arrested?

About 3 people were arrested before the announcement was made. They were campaigning and protesting on the wrong side of the street, and on the whole there were a lot of people, a lot of protestors, a lot of press, but very peaceful at the same time.

Polina Boiko, thank you very much for reporting from outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

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