QUITO – Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Jose Valencia said on Monday no arrangements have been made with another country for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up at the Andean nation’s embassy in the United Kingdom since being granted asylum in 2012.
In statements to reporters, Valencia once again denied information posted online late last week by WikiLeaks.
On April 4, that publisher said that “a high level source within the Ecuadorian state has told @WikiLeaks that Julian Assange will be expelled within ‘hours to days.’”
“Ecuador is in no way subject to external pressure,” Valencia said on Monday.
The top diplomat said Ecuador will act in accordance with international law with respect to Assange and take a “sovereign, independent and autonomous” decision.
Valencia said Ecuador has allowed Assange to receive visits at the diplomatic mission for years, noting that Joe Cannataci, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to privacy, is scheduled to meet on April 25 with the Australian journalist, publisher and Internet activist.
On Friday, Ecuador’s government once again warned Assange, a naturalized Ecuadorian citizen, that he must abide by the country’s laws.
“No person under the jurisdiction of Ecuador is above the law,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in an official statement in which it nevertheless confirmed that it would not withdraw Assange’s asylum protection.
“By issuing information that distorts the truth, (Assange) and his associates once again express ingratitude and disrespect toward Ecuador, instead of showing gratitude to the country that has hosted him for almost seven years,” the ministry said.
It also recalled that Ecuador has incurred expenses for Assange’s stay at its embassy in London despite his “rudeness,” adding that the WikiLeaks founder had sued the country for adopting a coexistence protocol aimed at preventing him from engaging in future misconduct.
Last Monday, Ecuador’s government said it had filed a complaint with Cannataci over alleged violations of President Lenin Moreno’s privacy and that of several of his family members following the purported hacking of private information stored on the president’s personal digital devices, a leak that led to the publication of Moreno’s family photos on social media.
Moreno’s administration also identified WikiLeaks as the possible perpetrator or accomplice of the alleged hacking.
The president is currently facing corruption allegations brought by an opposition lawmaker allied with Moreno’s predecessor and former close ally turned political enemy, Rafael Correa.
That opposition lawmaker, Ronny Aleaga, says he received documents – known as the INA Papers – that show evidence of illicit enrichment, money laundering and other crimes on the part of Moreno and his family in connection with the construction of a hydroelectric dam in Ecuador built by a Chinese company.
He gave his version of the INA Papers case before Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office last Thursday.
WikiLeaks, for its part, fired back at Moreno’s administration after the hacking allegation.
“If President Moreno wants to illegally terminate a refugee publisher’s asylum to cover up an offshore corruption scandal, history will not be kind,” it said in a statement.
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.
Assange also expressed concern he would be extradited from Sweden to the US because of his role in the Manning leaks.
He 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.