Julian Assange has formally requested asylum in Ecuador in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces an investigation for rape and sexual molestation.
Assange, the bombastic founder of Wikileaks, fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Tuesday. He had been under house arrest in England while awaiting the outcome of an appeal of his extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors wish to question Assange.
Assange had appealed his extradition to the European Court of Justice after losing on appeal in the Supreme Court of England, but the European Court had not yet decided whether to take up the appeal. Assange is supposed to be extradited to Stockholm by June 28.
Swedish prosecutors wish to interview Assange about two cases of alleged rape and sexual molestation, in which Assange allegedly refused to wear a condom as requested by his partners, and hid the fact until they were done with intercourse. Assange has claimed he is innocent of all charges, and that the case is nothing but a smear campaign orchestrated by the Pentagon. Assange has also complained of Sweden’s tough anti-rape laws, calling the Scandinavian country the “Saudi Arabia of feminism.”
An attorney for the accusers, Claes Borgstrom, has demanded Assange be brought back to face trial. He had previously praised England’s decision to extradite as ”an obvious and expected decision that has been delayed too long.”
The Ecuadorian government has confirmed that they received the request. In a press conference, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said, “Ecuador is studying and analyzing the request,” according to a Reuters report.
Why Assange chose Ecuador, and why now, is unclear. Ecuador could choose to grant Assange asylum, but he would only be safe from extradition within their embassy; if he attempted to leave the country for Ecuador, he could be arrested by the British government and extradited.
The move is also puzzling, given that Assange has long claimed to be avoiding extradition to Sweden because he fears it is a U.S.-orchestrated trap. While Sweden and the United States have a close relationship, the United States has long had a very active covert presence in Central America, and allies of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa have alleged that U.S. intelligence agencies were behind an abortive 2010 coup d’état attempt. Additionally, Ecuador and the United States have an extradition treaty in place. It seems a strange place for Assange to go to get away from the long arm of Uncle Sam — but a good place to go to avoid answering for alleged rape.
Image Credit: PhotoIllustration by Jeff Fecke