LONDON – Ecuador on Thursday made things official, saying it has decided to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum.
Foreign minister Ricardo Patin made the announcement in an extended statement carried by British TV news networks Sky News and BBC News.
He called Assange a “communications professional” who has been doing important work, but whose legal rights have been violated, who wouldn’t get a fair trail in the U.S. and whose freedom of speech and life are in danger.
He also cited Assange’s fears that he could be further extradited to the U.S. and politically prosecuted. And he spoke of the WikiLeaks founder’s “fear on his part of his personal security, life and liberty.”
Assange in a first reaction called the decision a “significant victory.”
British and foreign media early Thursday stepped up their coverage of the looming diplomatic showdown between Ecuador and the U.K. over the future of Assange as they engaged in a war of words. TV pictures showed dozens of TV crews and other reporters standing outside the Ecuadorian embassy here.
Assange, whose life studios have been looking to bring to the big screen, had walked into Ecuador’s embassy earlier this summer to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces charges of sexual assault, but London police signaled they wouldn’t let him walk free.
Following reports that Britain may even consider entering the embassy to get to Assange, Ecuardor early Thursday said “such a threat [by the U.K.] is improper of a democratic and civilized country.”
In his televised mid-day U.K. time statement, Patin said the U.K. comments amounted to an attempt to “blackmail or threaten the sovereignty of one country.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what Britain’s next step would be, but the government said it still plans to “carry out our obligation to extradite him.”