Ecuador grants Julian Assange citizenship

Published: 12 January 2018 Image credit: Twitter

Julian Assange wears an Ecuadorian jersey

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted Ecuadorian citizenship after spending five years living in the nation’s London embassy.

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister María Espinosa made the announcement that the 46-year-old Australian’s naturalization had been accepted, adding that her country was still looking for “alternatives to resolve this case we have inherited.”

“Of course whatever alternative (taken) will be made strictly following to the norms and procedures of international law, in coordination with the United Kingdom, a country which we maintain the best relations of friendship and cooperation,” Ms Espinosa said.

The new citizenship status is not expected to make a big difference for Mr Assange in the near future, as any movement outside the embassy must still be reported to UK authorities. Earlier this week Britain rejected Ecuador’s request to give Mr Assange diplomatic status, which would have given him extra protections including special legal immunity and safe passage.

“What naturalization does is give an additional layer of protection to the asylee,” Ms Espinosa said.

“It does not alter in any way, but instead strengthens, his condition of an internationally protected person."

Ms Espinosa said they feared there was a “risk to the life and integrity of citizen Assange” by possible third states, not necessarily the United Kingdom.

“As long as the life, integrity of this protected person could be at risks and danger, the state is obligated to give him the protection,” she said.

British authorities have said there is only one way to resolve the issue.

“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” Reuters reported a British Foreign Office spokesman as saying.

Mr Assange has been living in asylum inside the embassy since 2012, due to fears he would be extradited to Sweden over rape-related charges.

Sweden has since dropped their case, however Mr Assange could still be arrested in the UK for skipping bail – and it’s believed he is also concerned the US could seek to extradite him for publishing leaked intelligence online.

Mr Assange’s relationship with Ecuador’s leaders hasn’t always been stable, with numerous warnings issued for Mr Assange not to meddle in politics since he first sought asylum.

In October 2016 the embassy cut off his internet service after emails from the then-US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign were published on WikiLeaks.