WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange on Tuesday walked into Ecuador’s embassy in London and applied for political asylum in a sensational bid to avoid extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes.
The former computer hacker, who last week exhausted all his legal options in Britain to fight extradition, was holed up at the embassy in central London while Quito examined the request, officials said.
Britain’s Foreign Office said Assange was “beyond the reach of the police” because he was on diplomatic territory, but stressed it would seek to work with the Ecuadorian authorities “to resolve this situation as soon as possible.”
Assange will remain at the embassy under the protection of the Ecuadorian government while his application is considered.
“The decision to consider Mr Assange’s application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden,” the embassy said in a statement.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Tuesday that Australia would continue to offer consular assistance to Assange.
“Australia will continue to support Mr Assange just as we do support any Australian overseas who faces legal difficulties or dilemmas,” Gillard told reporters after a G20 summit in Mexico.
Assange confirmed in a statement he was seeking “diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum” and expressed his gratitude to the Ecuadorian ambassador and government for considering the request.
In Quito, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said: “Julian Assange has requested political asylum at the diplomatic mission of Ecuador in London. The government is examining the request.”
The embassy later confirmed it would be seeking the views of Britain, Sweden and the US in order to make sure it complied with international law.
Assange has always maintained that the moves to extradite him to Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault are politically motivated and that the real aim is for him to be handed over to US authorities.
The silver-haired 40-year-old Australian’s Web site enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also published more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables, revealing often candid assessments of a huge range of issues.