British, Ecuadoran officials at odds over WikiLeaks founder
By Jim Wyss (The Miami Herald (MCT))
BOGOTA, Colombia — Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. And he appears to be no closer to leaving.
On Monday, British and Ecuadoran officials said they could not agree on what to do with Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden and seeking asylum in the Andean nation.
Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague met Monday to discuss Assange’s plight for the first time. During a news conference in London, Patino said the two nations would establish a legal commission to try to find a “definitive solution” for Assange, and he warned that the free-speech advocate was willing to spend up to five years in the embassy.
The U.K. Foreign Office acknowledged the creation of a working group but said “no substantive progress was made.”
Asked about Edward Snowden — the whistleblower who recently unveiled the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program — Patino said Ecuador would consider an asylum plea.
“If he wants to ask asylum from the Ecuadoran government, he can do it,” Patino said, “and we, of course, would analyze it.”
Snowden is in Hong Kong and has told The Guardian newspaper he will fight any extradition attempts from there.
Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden where he’s wanted for questioning on two allegations of sexual misconduct. London says it’s legally bound to fulfill that request, but Assange fears Sweden will deport him to the United States, where he might be punished for publishing more than 250,000 State Department cables, many of them secret.
Patino met with Assange on Sunday and said that, despite his ordeal, he remains in good spirits.
“I got to tell him for the first time, face-to-face, that the government of Ecuador maintains its firm decision to protect his human rights,” Patino said.
The meeting comes just a few days after Ecuador’s congress passed what experts consider to be some of the most restrictive media laws in Latin America outside of Cuba. Among other things, the law makes the release of confidential communications a crime.
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