Julian Assange can walk out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London any time he wants and face little prospect of jail time or extradition to face charges that carry a death penalty, the president of Ecuador told a radio station in Quito on Dec. 6.
Wikileaks founder Assange has remained in the Embassy since 2012, and maintains that the United Kingdom would extradite him to the U.S. to face charges if he exited his sanctuary. Then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April 2017 that arresting Assange was a “priority.”
President Lenin Moreno said he had “sufficient guarantees” from the U.K. that it would not extradite Assange to face the death penalty in another country, and that Assange faced only a brief sentence in the U.K. for skipping bail by claiming sanctuary in the embassy. “The road is clear for Mr. Assange to take the decision to leave,” Moreno said in a live radio interview.
In recent months, Ecuador has clamped down on Assange and his behavior, cutting off his Internet access in March 2018 after making political statements that Ecuador said violated his agreement for sanctuary. Reports in May indicated that Assange might be in jeopardy of losing asylum. More recently, Assange’s personal hygiene and care of his pet cat were brought under scrutiny. Assange later gave the cat up for adoption, according to La Repubblica.
President Moreno also said, “I do not like the presence of Mr. Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy, but we have been respectful of his human rights.” The president said that six years was too long for someone to remain “nearly incarcerated in an embassy.”
Assange’s statement doesn’t preclude extradition on non-capital charges, however, and on Nov. 15, U.S. federal prosecutors accidentally revealed that Assange had been fingered under seal in the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Assange’s Wikileaks released a variety of U.S. secrets, including diplomatic cables and CIA hacking tools, as well as a dump of email hacked from the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
Assange entered the embassy after two years of battling an extradition to Sweden to be questioned by prosecutors, who were considering whether charges should be brought against Assange for sexual assault. Some of the matters under investigation expired under Swedish statute of limitations by May 2017, when Swedish authorities revoked the arrest warrant. Prosecutors deemed it impossible to proceed on a remaining potential offense, which remains active were Assange to return to Sweden by 2020.
The lawyer for a woman who accused Assange of rape told news agencies at the time that her client was “shocked” and maintained her accusations.