Ecuador Grants WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Political Asylum

Julian Assange holed up in Ecuadorian embassy in London.

ByABC News
August 16, 2012, 8:45 AM

Aug. 16, 2012 — -- Ecuador will grant political asylum to Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, the South American country's foreign ministry announced today.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy on June 19, after a U.K. court declined to block his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with alleged sexual assaults. The Ecuadorian foreign ministry said the country had decided to grant asylum because Sweden could not guarantee Assange would not be extradited from there to the United States.

Assange has said he fears that Sweden will hand him over to the U.S. WikiLeaks has released hundreds of thousands of confidential U.S. documents on the web, including a slew of State Department cables going back years.

After Ecuador's announcement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said the office was "disappointed" by the decision but said it will not stop Assange from being extradited.

"Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorian Government's decision this afternoon does not change that," the spokesperson said. "We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act."

To get to Ecuador, Assange still have to get from the embassy, which is considered Ecuadorean soil, to an airport to board a flight to South America without being arrested by British police.

Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said today that if Assange steps foot outside the embassy he will be arrested.

"Harboring of alleged criminals or frustrating the due legal process is not a permitted function of diplomats under the Vienna convention," he said.

The British government has also reportedly reminded the Ecuadorean government that under law it can revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy, which would enable officials to enter the building and apprehend Assange.

ABC News' Nick Schifrin and Simon McGregor-Wood contributed to this report.

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