As the Julian Assange saga continues, Ecuador continues to frustrate Swedish prosecutors more than three years after the founder of whistleblowing organization, WikiLeaks, was first granted diplomatic asylum by the Latin American nation.
The Australian, who denies all charges, is wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities over four alleged cases of sexual assault and rape.
Assange, 44, gained international notoriety in 2010 after his organization released a highly controversial cache of classified U.S. military files and diplomatic cables.
The WikiLeaks founder, who has been ensconced in Ecuador’s west London embassy since 2012, applied for diplomatic asylum after losing an extradition appeal in the UK courts.
Assange claims he sought Ecuador’s protection over fears the impartiality of any trial may be affected by the possibility of extradition from Sweden to the United States over his involvement in the release of the sensitive materials.
Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, appeared to share those sentiments, explained his government’s decision: “We don’t justify what Assange did, but this isn’t why we granted him asylum. We granted Assange asylum because there wasn’t any guarantee of a fair trial.”
A change in approach from Swedish authorities
Last month, following years of demanding that Assange be transported to Sweden for questioning, prosecutors finally agreed to interview him at the Ecuadorean embassy.
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño claimed the long wait to decide if Assange could testify from the embassy constituted an abuse of his human rights, according to TeleSur.
The apparent U-turn from prosecutors comes as the statute of limitation on three of the four offences is set to expire on August 20. The rape charge still has another five years of investigation, meaning Assange’s residency at the embassy looks unlikely to change.
However, the August deadline has added to confrontation with the Swedish authorities.
Ecuador claims the country’s law requires a formal agreement to be reached before any interview can take place. Documents seen by The Guardian, however, suggest Swedish authorities believe this unnecessary under international convention and Ecuador’s demands are currently hindering attempts to proceed.
Last Friday, a spokesperson for Sweden’s Prosecution Authority (Åklagarmyndigheten) told The Local, a Stockholm-based daily, that they have “asked the Ministry of Justice and the Embassy of Ecuador for permission … to interrogate (Assange) as soon as possible.”
The office of head prosecutor Marianne Ny, speaking to AFP, said they are now “waiting for permission from Ecuador.”
Ecuador will not just open the embassy’s door
Finally, with the prospect of an interview in the coming weeks, Patiño, speaking to The Guardian, said he found it unacceptable that Sweden “would expect the role of Ecuador be limited to opening the doors of its embassy.”
He went onto explain because of the ‘extraordinary’ situation Ecuador could not just grant free access, with the two countries needing to agree terms, like Ecuador’s requirement that diplomatic staff be present at the interview.
Patiño’s comments come in the wake of a failed earlier attempt by Swedish authorities to interview Assange in June.
Assange, with backing from Ecuador, had for some time requested Swedish prosecutors interview him in London; both parties claim the requests were turned down until recently.
Head prosecutor Ny cancelled an interview scheduled for June 17, claiming approval had not been granted by Ecuador.
Ecuadorean authorities, in turn, claim a formal request was not received from Sweden until June 12, insufficient time to grant approval.
Assange released a statement on the cancelled interview: “The prosecutor waited another seven months before finally accepting my offer to take my statement in London. Today, I learned that the Swedish legal application to Ecuador, which is likely to take weeks, was only sent to Ecuador two days ago.”