'Time to allow Assange freedom,' says Ecuador

Ecuado's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino speaks during a press conference in Quito on Feb 5, 2016.
Ecuado's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino speaks during a press conference in Quito on Feb 5, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

QUITO (AFP) - Ecuador said on Friday (Feb 5) that Britain and Sweden must allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from its London embassy, after a United Nations panel ruled his confinement amounted to arbitrary detention.

"It is time for both governments (Britain and Sweden) to correct their mistake, time for them to allow Julian Assange his freedom, time for them to end this arbitrary detention and furthermore compensate the damage done to this man," Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told a press conference.

"We've said it from the beginning, but now we're not the only ones. This is obvious political persecution. That has been absolutely demonstrated."

He said Assange was the victim of "abuse," whose only crime was "revealing the crimes committed by other citizens of powerful countries."

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuador embassy since June 2012 to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden, where he faces a rape allegation that he denies.

The 44-year-old Australian says he fears Sweden would in turn extradite him to the United States to face trial over the leak of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 250,000 diplomatic cables, which infuriated Washington.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled Friday (Feb 5) that Assange had been "arbitrarily detained" by Britain and Sweden, and that he should be able to claim compensation.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa suggested Thursday (Feb 4) that the South American country should also be entitled to compensation.

"Who is going to compensate the harm that has been done to Julian Assange and to Ecuador? Do you know how much it costs to maintain security at the embassy?" he asked.

Britain and Sweden have sharply condemned the UN panel's non-binding findings, saying they change nothing in the case against Assange, the target of a European arrest warrant.

British police say they are under an obligation to arrest Assange the moment he leaves the protected turf of the embassy.