Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino | Presidencia de la República del Ecuador

(update below)

The Ecuador foreign minister made a “severe allegation” today during a press conference against the United Kingdom and claimed they had received a “threat” to storm the Ecuador embassy in the UK to force the country to hand over WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who has applied for political asylum in Ecuador.

According to BBC News, Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino declared, “We’re not a British colony. UK threat to storm embassy would be hostile and force us to respond.” He added any “attack” would be a violation of the Vienna Convention, the United Nations Charter and other various principles enshrined in international law.

Patino also said, according to BBC world affairs producer Stuart Hughes, ”If the measure announced in the British offical communication is enacted, it will be interpreted by Ecuador as an unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act and as an attempt against our sovereignty. It would force us to respond.”

ITV News, based in the UK, reports there was a letter that informed Ecuador of the following:

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.

And:

We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations.

Reports that the UK would arrest Assange if he stepped out of the embassy have been circulating in the media for the past few days. In fact, this was much of the focus of initial reporting on the asylum request: that Assange would be taken into UK custody immediately if he left the confines of the Ecuador embassy. However, there has been no indication up to this point that the UK government has engaged in coercion against Ecuador to force them to decide one way or the other on the asylum request.

It is true that all embassies are generally accepted as sovereign territory that are protected under international law. This is what makes it possible for people who claim to be facing persecution to seek refuge in an embassy in a country. But, under the UK Diplomatic & Consular Premises Act of 1987, it appears the British government believes it could just revoke the immunity embassies typically enjoy.

Though in Spanish, this is the full text of the letter handed over. It shows that the UK has been working or pressuring Ecuador to come to a joint agreement and announce that Assange intends to voluntarily surrender himself to UK authorities for extradition to Sweden. It also suggests that Ecuador had not really committed to convincing Assange to voluntarily surrender and the UK thinks it might have been misled on what final decision the country was going to make because now there are “sources,” according to The Guardian, who have said asylum was granted.

Yesterday, Ecuador President Rafael Correa denied “rumors” that a decision had been made and that asylum had been granted. A spokesperson for WikiLeaks said there had been no notification of a decision given to Assange. A Guardian journalist did not back off the story that was published reporting a decision.

The letter containing the “threat” makes it clear that Assange has no hope of obtaining safe passage from the UK to Ecuador at this current time. Granting asylum will likely lead to imminent diplomatic crisis. The UK has been patient, but it is showing through statements to media outlets like Reuters and domestic press in the UK that views its commitment to extraditing Assange to Sweden to be more important than respecting any decision made by Ecuador to grant asylum.

Update

Statement now from the British government (which doesn’t deny they have “threatened” Ecuador over the asylum decision):

We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the government of Ecuador.

The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we are remain determined to fulfil this obligation…

…We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture.

Throughout this process have we have drawn the Ecuadorians’ attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or to the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK.

We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.

And a statement from the Ecuador Embassy in London:

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.

This is a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention.

Throughout out the last 56 days Mr. Julian Assange has been in the Embassy,  the Ecuadorian Government has acted honourably in all our attempts to seek a resolution to the situation. This stands in stark contrast to the escalation of the British Government today with their threats to breakdown the door of the Ecuadorian Embassy.

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.