Officials in Ecuador have granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange citizenship after five years of living in the country’s London embassy.
Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said Ecuador had accepted Assange’s request made in December to become a citizen, arguing that citizenship would “provide the asylum seeker another layer of protection.”
“No solution will be achieved without international co-operation and the co-operation of the United Kingdom, which has also shown interest in seeking a way out,” she continued.
Ecuador granted Assange, whose organization WikiLeaks has published millions of classified government documents, political asylum in 2012 in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden over a rape claim. Assange’s activities exposing classified American documents may have led to further extradition to the United States, some speculated at the time.
Sweden has since dropped the rape claim, although Assange could still face arrest on charges of skipping bail that could also lead to extradition, meaning he is still unsafe to leave the embassy.
“The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Assange here in the UK, said a spokesperson for Britain’s Foreign Office. “The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter. Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”
Ecuadorian authorities are reportedly currently considering the option of appointing Assange as a member of its diplomatic team, meaning he would have special protections under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, including safe passage of travel and special legal immunity.
“We would like him to come [to Ecuador], but any movement of the asylee outside the embassy must be agreed prior with the United Kingdom,” Espinosa said.
Assange’s relationship with Ecuadorian authorities has been tested in the past year as a result of his social media and internet activities. In October 2016, the embassy temporarily cut off his internet access as Wikileaks continued to publish private emails from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Last April, Ecuador’s then president-elect Lenín Moreno also warned Assange to not interfere with the country’s politics, after he taunted Moreno’s conservative opponent Guillermo Lasso over his defeat. Lasso had pledged to kick Assange out the embassy.
However, speculation grew this week that he had been granted a passport after posting an image on Twitter of him wearing an Ecuadorian football shirt. Espinosa described his continued stay as “untenable.”
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) January 10, 2018
Assange has yet to comment on the development.