Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. Frank Augstein AP
Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. Frank Augstein AP

World

Ecuador vows to protect Assange but voices fatigue at embassy ordeal

By Tim Johnson

tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com

January 09, 2018 06:11 PM

WASHINGTON

Ecuador said Tuesday that it will continue to protect WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London but indicated weariness over his prolonged asylum ordeal, saying that it “is not sustainable.”

Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa told correspondents in Quito that her nation is looking for a third country or prominent international figure to help broker the stalemate over Assange, who entered the embassy in London in June 2012.

“We will continue to protect Julian Assange,” Espinosa said in a tweet. But she told reporters gathered for an annual news conference earlier that “a person cannot live in these conditions forever.”

“We are also considering and exploring the possibility of mediation. … It could be a third country or a personality," Espinosa said, according to Agence France Presse, a news agency.

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We are also considering and exploring the possibility of mediation. ... It could be a third country or a personality.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Ecuador foreign minister

In June, Assange will end his sixth year living in refuge in Ecuador's Embassy in London’s Knightsbridge district. His quarters are cramped, and he has complained of health problems. He does not leave the embassy lest British authorities arrest him and turn him over to U.S. prosecutors for a possible criminal trial.

A stream of high-profile visitors has gone to see Assange, including Lady Gaga, former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, right-wing British politician Nigel Farage and U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican.

President Donald Trump, during the 2016 campaign, once crowed at a campaign rally, “I love WikiLeaks.” At the time, the radical transparency organization was releasing loads of hacked emails intended to hurt Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.

While lauding Assange then, powerful corners of the Trump administration have voiced hostility toward Assange and WikiLeaks even as the organization played an outsize role in U.S. politics.

“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a forum last April. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that same month that Assange’s eventual arrest “is a priority.”

WikiLeaks in 2010 released troves of classified military documents about the war in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, many of which were highly classified. Last year, the group published confidential documents from the CIA, including details of its hacking tools.

Assange initially entered Ecuador’s embassy to escape an investigation in Sweden related to accusations of rape there, but that inquiry has since been dropped.

Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was a robust advocate for Assange, but his successor, Lenin Moreno, who came to office last year, warned Assange that he “cannot meddle in national and international politics” — especially in cases of “politics of countries that are our friends.”

Using his Twitter account, Assange has been a proponent of Catalan independence from Spain, angering the Moreno government.

Today, the "Freedom of Press" Foundation, which is now substantially linked to Paypal's Omidyar, has, after political pressure, decided to terminate processing of WikiLeaks' donations.



Alternatives created here: https://t.co/lmsmphuH2N



Background: https://t.co/9urungQ3Yq

— WikiLeaks (@WikiLeaks) January 9, 2018

Separately, WikiLeaks said the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, has “after political pressure, decided to terminate processing of WikiLeaks' donations.” The group was set up in 2011 as a mechanism to improve WikiLeaks’ prospects for survival. WikiLeaks says it now has alternative means to gather credit card donations.

Tim Johnson: 202-383-6028, @timjohnson4