Venezuela and the ALBA alliance have backed Ecuador against “threats” from Britain, after Ecuador granted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange diplomatic asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London yesterday.
Swedish authorities want to extradite Assange from the UK to investigate allegations against him of sexual assault.
However Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino voiced fears that Assange, whose website Wikileaks often publishes US government secret documents, could face “political persecution” if extradited to Sweden, including being handed over to US authorities.
UK foreign minister William Hague described Ecuador’s move as a “matter of regret,” insisting that “We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so”.
Patino also heavily criticised what he termed an “open threat” by the British government to enter the Ecuadorian embassy by force to arrest Assange. On 15 August he cited a diplomatic letter delivered through the British embassy in Quito, which stated “You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy”.
“We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange’s presence in your premises, this is an open option for us,” the letter continued.
Venezuela called for Ecuador’s decision to grant Assange asylum to be respected, and criticised the British government’s conduct over the issue.
“We hope that the British government respects not only international law but the right to political asylum that Assange has received,” said yesterday Venezuela’s foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro.
Speaking during an official visit in the Dominican Republic, Maduro also expressed his rejection of “the arrogance and predominance that the British government has had in the region [Latin America], directly threatening a democratic and sovereign government and announcing the possible violation of international law”.
Meanwhile, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which includes Cuba, Venezuela, and Ecuador among its members, also released a statement yesterday criticising the British government’s message to Ecuador.
The statement raised concerns that by Britain’s “threats” made “against the integrity” of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the British government was in danger of violating the Vienna Convention on [Diplomatic] Privileges and Immunities.
Declaring the ALBA’s “unfailing solidarity” with Ecuador, the statement further warned the British government of “the serious consequences for the relations with our countries that will follow in the event these threats are carried out”.
According to Maduro, regional organisations the ALBA, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) are being “activated…to accompany the Ecuadorian government” over the issue.
UNASUR is set to hold an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers in Quito, Ecuador, this Sunday. The Organisation of American States (OAS) also held an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the state of UK-Ecuador relations.