QUITO – Ecuador’s foreign affairs and human mobility minister said on Friday that claims that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could soon be expelled from the Andean nation’s embassy in London were merely unfounded rumors.
Jose Valencia made his remarks on Twitter after the pro-transparency group said a senior Ecuadorian source had told them the Australian national could be ejected within a matter of hours.
“Rumors of the ‘imminent’ expulsion of Assange date back several months. The government won’t comment on the current unfounded rumors, which are also insulting,” Valencia wrote.
“Ecuador makes its decisions in a sovereign manner, independently of other countries,” he added.
“Diplomatic asylum is a sovereign competence of a state, which has the right to grant or withdraw it unilaterally when it feels it is justified,” Valencia said.
His remarks came as supporters of Assange had gathered outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom amid rumors that he would be expelled from the building where he has been holed up since being granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012.
WikiLeaks said a senior Ecuadorian government source had told them that Assange’s days at the embassy are numbered.
“A high level source within the Ecuadorian state has told @WikiLeaks that Julian Assange will be expelled within ‘hours to days’ using the #INAPapers offshore scandal as a pretext--and that it already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest,” WikiLeaks said on Twitter.
Assange’s supporters held up signs at the embassy on Friday calling for him to be allowed to leave the building without fear of arrest. A van outside the building also bore a billboard that read “Free Speech” and an image of Assange being muzzled by an American flag.
Assange rose to international attention in 2010 after WikiLeaks published leaked secret diplomatic and military documents provided by former United States Army soldier Chelsea Manning, which prompted the US government to launch a criminal investigation into the publisher.
In November of that year, Sweden requested Assange’s extradition over allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he denied.
He also expressed concern he would be extradited from Sweden to the US because of his role in the Manning leaks.
Assange surrendered himself to UK police around a month later and was held in custody for 10 days before being released on bail.
When he was unable to challenge the extradition proceedings, he breached bail and in August 2012 was granted asylum by Ecuador.
Sweden has since withdrawn its extradition request, but the London Metropolitan Police said an arrest warrant remained in force as Assange had failed to surrender after breaking bail conditions.
Assange is free to abandon the embassy, but he has said he fears UK police will arrest him and extradite him to the US.
In a statement online on Friday, WikiLeaks editor Kristinn Hrafnsson accused British and Ecuadorian authorities of acting as accomplices to US President Donald Trump.
“It will be a sad day for democracy if the UK and Ecuadorian governments are willing to act as accomplices to the Trump administration’s determination to prosecute a publisher for publishing truthful information,” he said.