WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted Ecuadorian citizenship in part of an effort to help him leave the country’s embassy in London. He has been in a state of asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy for over 5 years.
The decision was made mere hours after a request for Assange to be given diplomatic status was refused by the British government. Such a status would have meant Assange could leave the embassy while being immune from arrest by British police.
In 2017 the Ecuadorian president had criticised Assange and the South American nation’s Foreign Minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said she was hoping to deliver a solution to the dilemma of continuing to grant the controversial figure asylum.
Espinosa told the press that Ecuador was “currently exploring other solutions” in its negotiations with the United Kingdom and other bodies in order to achieve a “just, final and dignified solution”.
The British government continued its hard-line stance against Assange, with a Foreign Office spokesperson saying that the only solution was for Assange to “face justice”. Barry Pollack, Assange’s United States lawyer, did not make any comment.
Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012 and has lived in the Knightsbridge, London embassy ever since. Assange started his asylum in order to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questions about a case of sexual molestation.
Despite the fact Swedish authorities have since dropped their questioning the British police have said that if Assange should leave the embassy he would be arrested for a breach of bail conditions.
Assange robustly denied the allegations of sexual molestation in Sweden and has said that, if extradited, he would be handed over by Sweden to the United Sates. Assange fears that his involvement with WikiLeaks, the biggest leak of classified US military documents in history, would have him facing imprisonment or even death at the hands of the United States.
Espinosa said that there were “well-founded fears” about the potential for Assange to be killed if he left the embassy and could therefore not ethically deny him asylum. She however did not provide an explanation of how Assange’s new citizenship would help him escape the embassy.
The new president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, who was elected in May last year has not been friendly towards Assange. He stated that while Assange could stay in the embassy he referred to him as a “hacker” and warned him not to interfere with Ecuador’s allies.
For many people around the world Assange is a heroic figure for risking his freedom and life in openly exposing classified documents that revealed a sinister insight into US foreign policy. Others have labelled Assange as cyber-terrorist who has compromised the security of Western nations like the US.