The standoff between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the British government may reach a new level of diplomatic tension today, as it appears Assange is preparing to make some sort of public statement from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Assange has been living as a virtual prisoner in the Ecuadorian Assembly for the past two months. On Thursday, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa decided to grant asylum to Assange in Ecuador, but British authorities have vowed to arrest him if he steps foot outside of the Embassy.
Assange is wanted man in the U.S. because of the release of thousands of pages of secret American documents and diplomatic cables that caused considerable embarrassment to United States officials. He’s also wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations he sexually abused two women—charges he vehemently denies and that his supporters say are an effort to discredit him because of WikiLeaks embarrassing powerful officials in the U.S. and other nation.
Britain is eager to send him to Sweden and the United States, but Ecuador has refused to allow British authorities to enter its embassy to remove him. International law decrees that Britain must not breach the walls of Ecuador’s embassy without permission.
Correa’s decision to grant asylum came after British authorities threatened to force their way into the embassy, according to Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, who said he told them, “We are not a British colony.”
On his Twitter account, President Correa wrote, “No one is going to terrorize us!” indicating that threatening force was the wrong way for Britain to handle the situation.
Workmen could be seen yesterday preparing a small balcony at the Ecuadorian Embassy for Assange’s statement to the world. The British police have a small army of officers patrolling around the Embassy to make sure Assange doesn’t try an escape—which would be an enormous embarrassment to the country if somehow he managed to make his way to Ecuador without capture.
“I cannot go into details of that for security reasons,” a spokesman for WikiLeaks said when asked how Assange would make his statement at the embassy.
Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish jurist and prominent human rights investigator who heads Assange’s legal team, was also expected to speak in a separate address outside the building ahead of Assange’s appearance.
As for the U.S. position on the matter, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, “The United States views this as a matter to be resolved between the British government, the Ecuadorean government and the Swedish government. At this point, we have not intervened in this matter and I don’t have any guidance for you right now on whether or not that’s something we would intervene in.”