11:45 PM EST That is all for now. FDL’s live blog on Assange’s asylum request decision will resume just as Ecuador announces a decision.
I’ll refrain from speculating. There won’t be any glib comments as I sign off for the night. I’ll just share this exchange that I had with a Sky News correspondent earlier today:
That is how astounding this all happens to be. First, the correspondent thought the Foreign Minister of Ecuador had to be exaggerating or engaging in hype. Then, he was shown the letter with the threat.
Now, he was surprised. How could the UK not respect the embassy’s sovereignty? How could it even suggest that it might not consider respecting the embassy without seeming incredibly overbearing?
The decision will be announced at 7 am Ecuador Time.
11:40 PM EST Ecuadorians gather outside UK embassy in Ecuador to protest British intimidation ahead of decision.
11:20 PM EST Exceptional report from Philip Dorling for the Sydney Morning Herald on mounting tensions around Assange’s asylum request. Includes details on Australia’s role. The country has kept itself from getting too involved.
11:10 PM EST Late night humor:
10:55 PM EST Australian National University’s Don Rothwell, a Australian international law expert, calls the threat from UK “extraordinary and without precedent in modern history.”
“It highlights how serious the United Kingdom government is about extraditing Assange to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault,” Professor Rothwell said in a statement.
“If the United Kingdom revoked the Embassy’s diplomatic protection and entered the Embassy to arrest Assange, Ecuador could rightly view this as a significant violation of international law which may find its way before an international court.”
10:50 PM EST A British Foreign Office spokesperson says, “Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection. But that decision has not yet been taken. We are not going to do this overnight. We want to stress that we want a diplomatically agreeable solution.”
10:45 PM EST WikiLeaks’ full statement on intimidation from the UK government:
In a communication this morning to the government of Ecuador, the UK threatened to forcefully enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrest Julian Assange.
The UK claims the power to do so under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.
This claim is without basis.
By midnight, two hours prior to the time of this announcement, the embassy had been surrounded by police, in a menacing show of force.
Any transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies worldwide.
This threat is designed to preempt Ecuador’s imminent decision on whether it will grant Julian Assange political asylum, and to bully Ecuador into a decision that is agreeable to the United Kingdom and its allies.
WikiLeaks condemns in the strongest possible terms the UK’s resort to intimidation.
A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances, and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide.
We draw attention to the fact that the United Nations General Assembly has unanimously declared in Resolution 2312 (1967) that
“the grant of asylum. . . is a peaceful and humanitarian act and that, as such, it cannot be regarded as unfriendly by any other State.”
Pursuant to this resolution, a decision to grant asylum cannot be construed by another State as an unfriendly act. Neither can there be diplomatic consequences for granting asylum.
We remind the public that these extraordinary actions are being taken to detain a man who has not been charged with any crime in any country.
WikiLeaks joins the Government of Ecuador in urging the UK to resolve this situation according to peaceful norms of conduct.
We further urge the UK government to show restraint, and to consider the dire ramifications of any violation of the elementary norms of international law.
We ask that the UK respect Ecuador’s sovereign right to deliver a decision of its own making on Julian Assange’s asylum bid.
Noting that Ecuador has called for emergency summits of OAS and UNASUR in response to this development, WikiLeaks asks those bodies to support Ecuador’s rights in this matter, and to oppose any attempts to coerce a decision.
We note with interest that this development coincides with the UK Secretary of State William Hague’s assumption of executive responsibilities during the vacation of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Hague’s department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has overseen the negotiations to date with Ecuador in the matter of Mr Assange’s asylum bid.
If Mr Hague has, as would be expected, approved this decision, WikiLeaks calls for his immediate resignation.
9:50 PM EST This is a photo from outside the embassy just after 2:30 am (London). It was taken by @odotm.
@Odotm was about to leave but police movements started to occur on the side of the embassy. Now @Odotm reports “two police vans at side exit of Ecuadorean embassy behind police tape, two police van on the road. Four in total.” (Photo) But, police claim nothing will happen tonight.
9:45 PM EST New livestream from outside the Ecuador embassy. Albury is now using Ustream, not Bambuser.
9:37 PM EST Bambuser has reportedly sustained a distributed denial of service (DDoS) from AntiLeaks, the hacker group that allegedly consists of young Americans that are not from any government agencies (their claim). They attacked WikiLeaks for a week recently and forced the media organization to make website upgrades.
Will the FBI investigate this attack on Bambuser? It allegedly is coming from young people in the US. Will they?
9:20 PM EST There is no “raid.” People continue to use this word on Twitter when it has not happened. Police entered a side entrance according to livestreamer James Albury, who is at the Ecuador embassy, reported:
He added he would not call it a “raid.” The police went into a side entrance that he did not think was sovereign property of Ecuador.
9:00 PM EST Guatemalan-based writer Renata Avila has some insightful tweets on the coercion the UK appears to be engaged in against Ecuador.
Avila also tweets:
They definitely should, but so far, as Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy & Research has pointed out, human rights groups have chosen not to speak out on behalf of Assange and instead fabricate this idea that Ecuador is a country with one of the most repressive climates for the press.
Also a provocative tweet, one worth keeping in mind as the US government makes statements about what the UK government should or should not do. (Though the government is likely to be pretty silent on this affair—as silent as they can be so it does not look like they are pulling any strings behind the scenes.)
8:53 PM EST This post up at Vanity Fair reveals the character of the US pundit class in America. (1) The author snidely characterizes Assange as a “wraithlike provocateur.” (2) It opens with Mazel tov. (3) It has an incredibly glib concluding sentence: “Why are space and time so obviously conspiring against WikiLeaks? Dimensions are in the tank for corporate fascism.” (4) The thrust of the post trivializes the asylum request story. Its author may think satire is taking place but the author is really engaged in self-parody. (5) It tells readers nothing about what just happened between Ecuador and the UK. In fact, it reports on a Guardian story from yesterday that Ecuador President Rafael Correa soundly denied and called “rumor.”
But, don’t expect the more established US media outlets to promote insightful discussion of the legal or international relations issues created by this request and the threat that the UK made against Ecuador. You’ll have to turn to an Internet news site like Firedoglake to get a serious consideration (or some other alternative/independent news source). These outlets with far more resources than Firedoglake are not going to put them to proper use and give you mature and comprehensive reporting. They’d rather push hokey infotainment like this.
8:25 PM EST Carl Gardner, whose Twitter account says he is a barrister, former government lawyer, writer, legal commentator and author of the Head of Legal blog, has a post on whether the United Kingdom can really withdraw the Ecuador embassy’s diplomatic status. It is recommended reading, especially because it is a sober assessment.
They can withdraw recognition but section 1(4) of the UK Diplomatic & Consular Premises Act of 1987 says, “The Secretary of State shall only give or withdraw consent or withdraw acceptance if he is satisfied that to do so is permissible under international law.” When withdrawing consent, the “minister”:
shall have regard to all material considerations, and in particular, but without prejudice to the generality of this subsection—
(a) to the safety of the public;
(b) to national security; and
(c) to town and country planning.
The “compliance with international law” requirement may present a problem, since article 21 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations requires the UK to facilitate the acquisition by Ecuador of premises necessary for its mission, or assist it in obtaining accommodation. It’s not obvious this allows the UK to just de-recognise the current premises without helping arrange something new.
Section 1(5) is interesting because, in spite of the way the drafting clearly intends to preserve ministers’ ability to take account of anything they think relevant, I’ve no doubt lawyers for Ecuador could argue that the list of three particular concerns colours the scope of ministers’ considerations, the result being that only some particular difficulty relating to safety or to the premises themselves could justify withdrawal.
More importantly, they could argue that Assange’s presence in the embassy and Ecuador’s conduct in sheltering him is not a material consideration; and that since that clearly lay behind the withdrawal, ministers would in deciding to withdraw consent, have taken into account an irrelevant factor.
In addition, there’d be a potentially strong argument to be made that ministers had exercised their power for an improper purpose not intended by Parliament when it enacted the 1987 legislation – their desire to arrest Julian Assange.
8:20 PM EST Be wary of reports on a police “raid” happening already. All images or video have shown is police milling about on steps in front of the embassy entrance. The Sydney Morning Herald published an article with a headline on a raid but this is hysterical disinformation. There is no proof in the article at all. The only sentence on the so-called raid is, “BREAKING NEWS: Police have reportedly entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Australian WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is holed up after his request for political asylum.” According to whom? A worried WikiLeaks supporter who tweeted he thought this was happening?
The immunities granted to diplomatic staff, and their families, are set out in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (“VCDR”) (and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963 – CRA 1968) to which the United Kingdom is a party. The relevant provisions of the Convention are applied in the UK by the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 (“DPA 1964″), section 2.
Diplomatic immunity in the UK is conferred on all entitled members of a foreign mission (and entitled family members forming part of their household, provided they are not nationals of the UK) who have been notified to, and accepted by, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as performing a diplomatic function. Immunity is dependent on rank, and ranges from immunity from criminal and civil and administrative jurisdiction to immunity for official acts only…
…While diplomatic premises in the UK are part of UK territory, they are inviolable and may not be entered without the consent of the Ambassador or Head of Mission. (See DPA 1964 section 2(1) and schedule 3.) Any offences committed in diplomatic premises in the UK are triable under the ordinary principles of English law, subject to the principles of diplomatic immunity for those who have it. Those who do not have this status (whatever their nationality) can be prosecuted as normal, as for example happened in the case of the terrorists who seized the Iranian embassy in London in 1980.
8:02 PM EST Here is a livestream of the current scene outside the embassy.
8:00 PM EST Over the past couple hours, there have been reports of Metropolitan Police increasing their presence in the area surrounding the Ecuador embassy in London.
Occupy London tweets this photo of a police van. The photo shows police standing at an entrance to the embassy. They also report that pizza has just been delivered to the embassy from Domino’s.
In the late afternoon, Ecuador foreign minister Ricardo Patino made a stunning allegation during a press conference in Ecuador. He claimed the British government had threatened Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder & editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who has sought political asylum from the country and been holed up in the embassy for over fifty days.
The Ecuador government released a letter containing this “threat.” The letter suggested that under the UK Diplomatic & Consular Premises Act of 1987 it could revoke the diplomatic immunity that the Ecuador embassy in London enjoys. This would make it possible for UK authorities to storm the embassy and force Ecuador to hand over Assange. To this, Patino declared, “We’re not a British colony. UK threat to storm embassy would be hostile and force us to respond.”
The UK government said in response to this allegation, “We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture,” and, “We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.” The Ecuador embassy in London issued a statement, “We are deeply shocked by British government’s threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy.” And, “Instead of threatening violence against the Ecuadorian Embassy the British Government should use its energy to find a peaceful resolution to this situation which we are aiming to achieve.”
The decision appears to be destined to produce a major diplomatic crisis. Ecuador apparently called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) and Union of South American Nations to discuss this “threat” against a Latin American country’s embassy by the UK.
A full report on this development that I put together can be read here.
Firedoglake will now be live blogging developments related to the coming announcement, which is expected to be presented at 7 am Ecuador time. That means the announcement can be expected about 8 am ET/7 am CT (United States).
All updates will appear at the top of this post.