WikiLeaks Founder Tries to Get Asylum

(Wall Street Journal) – WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fled to Ecuador’s Embassy in London on Tuesday and requested political asylum, a last-ditch maneuver to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning on sexual-misconduct allegations.

Ecuador’s foreign-relations minister, Ricardo Patiño, said at a news conference that Ecuador’s government was evaluating the Australian activist’s request and said the decision would respect international law and human rights.

Mr. Assange will remain at the embassy, a brick building in London’s wealthy Knightsbridge area, under the Ecuadorean government’s protection until a decision is made, the embassy said.

Mr. Assange’s choice of country isn’t by chance. In late 2010, Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister invited Mr. Assange to relocate to the Andean nation and live freely without any conditions, but Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, later called the invitation a “personal statement by the deputy minister” rather than a formal, authorized offer.

WikiLeaks confirmed Mr. Assange’s move in an announcement on its Twitter feed Tuesday night and noted: “Ecuador offered Assange protection as far back as November 2010.”

Mr. Assange’s plea for Ecuador’s help amounts to a last-chance gambit to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations he raped one woman and molested another during a 2010 trip to the Scandinavian country.

Mr. Assange, who shot to world-wide fame in 2010 after he started to release a quarter million confidential U.S. State Department cables, has denied the allegations, describing the sexual encounters in Sweden as consensual and calling the claims by the two women a smear campaign designed to cripple his activism.

Claes Borgström, a lawyer for the Swedish women, says the allegations don’t relate to Mr. Assange’s work. In an interview last month, he said his clients had been sexually abused and then portrayed as villains.

Mr. Correa, a self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary, is known for his tough stance toward Ecuador’s media, which he has criticized as corrupt and biased.

Earlier this year, a part owner of Ecuador’s leading newspaper took refuge in the Panamanian Embassy in Quito after Ecuador’s top court ordered the paper to pay a $40 million fine and upheld three-year prison sentences for the part owner and three others for defaming Mr. Correa. After a world-wide outcry, Mr. Correa forgave the fine as well as the prison terms, and the newspaper’s owner left the embassy.

Ecuador was one of the governments that reacted most strongly to the publication of the WikiLeaks documents, kicking out U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges from Quito in response to a July 2009 cable signed by Ms. Hodge. The cable alleged widespread police corruption may have occurred with Mr. Correa’s knowledge. Shortly after, the U.S. kicked out Ecuadorean Ambassador to Washington Luis Gallegos.

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