QUITO, Ecuador - Ecuador’s foreign minister said Tuesday that WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange has taken refuge in the South American nation’s embassy in London and is seeking political asylum.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Ecuador is considering the request.
The move comes less than a week after Britain’s Supreme Court rejected Assange’s bid to reopen his attempts to block extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning after two women accused him of sexual misconduct during a visit to the country in mid-2010. He denies the allegations.
His legal struggle to stay in Britain has dragged on for the better part of two years.
Patino said Assange had written to President Rafael Correa saying he was being persecuted and seeking asylum.
He said it was impossible for Assange, who is Australian, to return to his homeland because it would not protect him from being extradited to “a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition.’’
The reference is to the United States, as Patino says the letter spells out. Assange, 40, says the United States has secretly indicted him for divulging US secrets and will act on the indictment if Sweden succeeds in extraditing him from Britain.
In the letter, he accused Swedish officials of “openly attacking me’’ and investigating him for political crimes, Patino said.
The foreign minister said his country would consider the asylum request “taking into account the respect for the norms and principles of international law as well as Ecuador’s policy of protecting human rights.’’
In November 2010, Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister said the country was offering residency to Assange. However, Correa told reporters the following day that neither he nor Patino had approved the offer and that it would need to be studied.
Assange shot to international attention in 2010 when his website released hundreds of thousands of secret US documents.
Australian Prime Minister Julie Gillard has said her country could not protect Assange, a former computer hacker, from other countries’ justice systems.