In written a statement to British Parliament, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has dismissed Julian Assange’s fears that, if extradited to Sweden he might be sent on to the United States to face the death penalty.
"The suggestion that Mr Assange's human rights would be put at risk by the possibility of onward extradition from Sweden to a third country is…without foundation. Not only would Sweden – as a signatory to the European convention on human rights – be required to refuse extradition in circumstances which would breach his human rights, but the authorities in Sweden would also be legally obliged to seek the United Kingdom's consent before any extradition to a non-EU member state could proceed,” said Hague in the statement.
“The United Kingdom could only consent to Mr. Assange’s onward extradition from Sweden to a third country if satisfied that extradition would be compatible with his human rights, and that there was no prospect of a death sentence being imposed or carried out.”
The death penalty is currently legal in 33 of America’s 50 states, as well as in the military.
The 41 year-old founder of WikiLeaks has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge, London since he fled there in June to avoid extradition to Sweden. There, the Australian citizen is wanted for charges of sexual misconduct involving two women in Stockholm in 2010. He maintains that the sex was consensual in both cases.
Ecuador, a country with an abysmal press freedom record (whose populist president, Rafael Correa, is open in his contempt for all non-state media), has granted the whistleblower political asylum on the grounds that Sweden might extradite him on to the United States, where his role in publishing a trove of hundreds of thousands of leaked diplomatic cables could ostensibly cause him to face the death penalty, or otherwise pose a threat to his human rights.
Hague said that such suggestions had been “comprehensively rejected” by British courts and that there was “no legal basis” for Britain’s government to allow Assange safe passage out of the country. As such, and given the number of Scotland Yard officers surrounding the embassy around the clock (see image above), for Assange to escape from his Knightsbridge refuge into an aircraft of any kind would be a Houdini-worthy feat.
The Foreign Secretary called it a “matter of regret” that Ecuador’s government had decided to offer him political asylum on August 16, despite Britain’s numerous, carefully-explained guarantees that Assange’s human rights were safe.
“We wish to continue our dialogue with the government of Ecuador. We believe that our two countries should be able to find a diplomatic solution. We have invited the government of Ecuador to resume, as early as possible, the discussions we have held on this matter to date,” said Hague’s statement.
Meanwhile, the United States has granted political asylum to Ecuadorian columnist Emilio Palacio, who fled to Miami after his 2011 opinion piece for leading Ecuadorian newspaper el Universo, which was critical of Correa, triggered a libel case in which he and the newspaper’s three owners were handed jail sentences and ordered to pay $40 million in damages. The case was later dismissed.
Image of Ecuadorian embassy in London courtesy of Trowbridge Estate via Flickr Creative Commons