Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid arrest and extradition to the US, was today denied diplomatic status by the UK government.
The anti-secrecy group’s chief has been based at the Ecuador embassy in central London since 2012 after he lost appeals against sexual assault charges in Sweden.
The request for diplomatic status was made on behalf of the 46-year-old campaigner by the Ecuadorean government, which has reportedly issued a passport to the Australian national after he had sought political asylum from the South American country five and a half years ago.
“The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Assange here in the UK. The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter,” said a spokesperson for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” the spokesperson added.
According to media reports from Ecuador earlier this week, Assange has been registered to the province of Pichincha, which covers the capital Quito.
The public database of the country’s internal revenue service indicates that the travel document was delivered to Assange on December 21, indicating that the country is preparing for the campaigner’s exit from his London hideout.
Ecuador foreign minister María Fernanda Espinosa has said that the country is seeking a neutral third-party nation’s mediation to revolve what she described as an “untenable” situation.
While the grant of a passport has not been officially confirmed, it is seen as part of a process to get Assange out of the UK by giving him a role at the embassy that confers diplomatic immunity.
The rape allegation against the computer programmer had followed a Wikileaks conference in Stockholm in 2010.
Assange has always denied the sexual assault allegations against him, claiming the sex was consensual and that the case was politically motivated to get him extradited to the US over massive Wikileaks dumps of secret US military reports that year.
Swedish prosecutors have since dropped their investigation into the allegations but Assange still faces arrest by Scotland Yard for breaching bail conditions if he steps outside the embassy.
Assange also fears he will be extradited to the US if he leaves the building over a sealed indictment ordering his arrest.
A United Nations panel had concluded in 2016 that Assange was under arbitrary detention. But the British government has maintained he must face justice in UK courts over his breach of bail conditions.
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