QUITO – Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said on Friday that he expected the United Kingdom would promptly grant safe passage to WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up at the Andean nation’s embassy in London for nearly five years.
Long made his remarks after the Swedish prosecutor’s office said Friday it had closed its investigation into rape allegations leveled against Assange because there were no further ways to advance the case.
“The European arrest order against Mr. Assange is no longer valid. We expect the United Kingdom will promptly grant him safe passage,” the foreign minister of Ecuador, which granted Assange asylum in 2012 after he came to that nation’s embassy in the UK seeking refuge, wrote on Twitter.
Long also said at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry’s office that the Ecuadorian government would continue to grant asylum to Assange.
WikiLeaks’ founder has been stuck at the embassy in London for nearly five years, as the UK refuses to allow him safe passage to the airport to board a plane for Ecuador.
London’s Metropolitan Police on Friday said a warrant that had been issued by the UK against Assange over his failure to surrender to the Westminster magistrates court still stood, meaning that despite Sweden’s announcement Assange would be arrested if he set foot outside the embassy.
“Now that the situation has changed and the Swedish authorities have discontinued their investigation into that matter, Assange remains wanted for a much less serious offense,” the statement read.
Assange responded angrily on Twitter to Friday’s announcement by Sweden.
“Detained for 7 years without charge by while my children grew up and my name was slandered,” he tweeted.
The Australian citizen sought refuge at the Ecuadorian mission in June 2012 after losing a long battle in the British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors had been seeking to question him about rape allegations dating back to 2010.
He also had been under investigation on two counts of alleged sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion, but the statute of limitations on these expired in 2015.
Assange, who has denied all of the accusations, has said that once he is in Swedish custody the United States will pressure Stockholm into handing him over for prosecution based on WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has accused WikiLeaks of being a “hostile intelligence service” and says it is seeking Assange’s arrest.
By referring to WikiLeaks as an intelligence service, the Trump administration was seeking to differentiate it from major media outlets like the New York Times that also have published sensitive US government documents leaked by whistleblowers.