The UK government has blocked a plan to whisk Julian Assange to freedom, denying an application for diplomatic immunity and insisting he must “face justice” for breaching bail.
Ecuador confirmed on Thursday it had granted citizenship to Assange in December, at his request.
It appears this was part of a plan to make him a part of Ecuador’s diplomatic mission, which would grant him immunity from prosecution under international law.
Since mid-2012 Assange has stayed inside Ecuador’s small London embassy, which he entered after he exhausted his legal options in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations.
Last year Swedish prosecutors officially ended their investigation into the allegations.
However Assange still faces arrest over breaching bail conditions, and fears extradition to the US to face charges over his work with Wikileaks.
On Thursday the UK Foreign Office revealed that the government of Ecuador had recently requested diplomatic status for Assange in the UK.
“The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter,” an FCO spokesman said.
“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”
On Tuesday Ecuador’s foreign minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said Assange’s position was “unsustainable” from a human point of view, because “a person cannot live in these conditions forever”.
She was “exploring the possibility of mediation” by a third country or person to resolve the situation.
She said the UK “has also shown interest in finding a way out”.
Ms Espinosa also said Ecuador would “continue to protect Julian Assange while his physical and psychological integrity is in danger”.
At a press conference on Thursday – at which she confirmed reports that Assange had been naturalised Ecuadorian – Ms Espinosa said she feared for threats to Assange’s life coming from third party states.
“The Ecuadorian government has the power to grant nationality to a protected person,” she said.
They would continue to look for alternatives, under international law, to resolve the situation.
“We are currently exploring other solutions, in dialogue with the United Kingdom, in a possible mediation that could facilitate a just, definitive and dignified solution for all parties involved, within the framework of international law,” Ms Espinosa said.
Reports of the escape plan spread this week after Assange’s name was discovered on Ecuador’s online civil registry, linked to an identity card number 1729926483. The first two digits of the number indicate he is a citizen of the province of Pinchincha, where the capital city Quito is located.
Assange fuelled rumours by Tweeting a photo of himself in the Ecuador national football team kit.
According to the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service, the UK follows the 1961 Vienna Convention on the rights of diplomats, which confers immunity from criminal prosecution for all entitled members of a foreign mission.
However immunity confers only after their names have been sent to – and approved by – the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
And the Convention obliges diplomats to respect the laws of their host country.
Fairfax contacted members of Assange’s legal team for comment but was referred to the statement by Ecuador.
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