Ecuadorian Foreign Minister María Fernanda Espinosa said on Thursday that her country granted citizenship to the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, in December. Quito has requested that the United Kingdom grant Assange diplomatic status so that he can claim immunity. London, however, refused the request.
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 after he sought asylum in the Latin American country to escape extradition to Sweden to face charges for allegedly raping a woman.
That investigation was dropped by Swedish courts last May. However, authorities in the UK have said that he will still be arrested if he tries to leave the embassy for breaching his original bail conditions.
The Wikileaks founder, who has always denied the rape charges, had refused to be extradited to Sweden for fear of being handed over to the United States, where he feared prosecution for the publication in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of confidential US documents.
The Ecuadorian government said on Thursday that Assange faces a possible threat to his life if his situation is not resolved.
“Ecuador is currently exploring other solutions in dialogue with the UK, like good offices of renowned authorities, other states, or international organizations that could facilitate a just, final and dignified solution for all parties,” Ecuador’s foreign minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa told a press conference.
“There are well-founded fears we have about possible risks to his life and integrity, not necessarily by the UK but by third-party states
In response, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said on Thursday: “Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”
In 2012 a UN panel that reviewed Assange’s case concluded that he was being arbitrarily detained and should be awarded compensation.
It remains unclear how acquiring Ecuadorian citizenship would affect his possible extradition to the US for leaking government documents.