Julian Assange repeatedly violated his asylum conditions and tried to use the Ecuadorian embassy in London as a “centre for spying”, Ecuador’s president has said in an interview with the Guardian.
Lenín Moreno also said he had been given written undertakings from Britain that Assange’s fundamental rights would be respected and that he would not be sent anywhere to face the death penalty.
Assange, 47, was taken from the embassy by British police last Thursday after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, ending a stay there of nearly seven years.
The WikiLeaks cofounder faces up to 12 months in prison after being found guilty of breaching his bail conditions when he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012. He made the move after losing a battle against extradition to Sweden where he faced allegations including of rape, which he denies.
He is expected to fight extradition to the US over an allegation that he conspired with the former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer. Sweden is weighing up whether to reopen an investigation into the rape and sexual assault allegations. When there are competing extradition requests in the UK, the home secretary decides which country should take priority.
Moreno’s move against Assange has proved controversial in Ecuador. The previous president, Rafael Correa, has accused his one-time political ally of “a crime humanity will never forget” and described Moreno as “the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history”.
In what may have been part of a campaign to weaken Moreno, WikiLeaks was linked to an anonymous website that claimed Moreno’s brother had created an offshore company, and it leaked material included private pictures of Moreno and his family.
In his first interview with English-speaking media since Assange was ejected from the embassy, Moreno denied he had acted as a reprisal for the way in which documents about his family had been leaked, and said he regretted that Assange had allegedly used the embassy to interfere in other country’s democracies.
“Any attempt to destabilise is a reprehensible act for Ecuador, because we are a sovereign nation and respectful of the politics of each country,” he said in the interview, which was conducted by email. “It is unfortunate that, from our territory and with the permission of authorities of the previous government, facilities have been provided within the Ecuadorian embassy in London to interfere in processes of other states.
“We can not allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a centre for spying,” Moreno said, in an apparent reference to the leaked pictures. “This activity violates asylum conditions. Our decision is not arbitrary but is based on international law”.
He accused Assange of repeatedly interfering in the internal affairs of other states, referencing WikiLeaks’ publication of Vatican documents in January 2019 as a recent example. “It is unfortunate that there are individuals dedicated to violating the privacy of people,” Moreno said.
He insisted the decision to cooperate with the British and remove Assange from the embassy was a sovereign decision of his government and was not forced upon him by any external power.
“He was a guest who was offered a dignified treatment, but he did not have the basic principle of reciprocity for the country that knew how to welcome him, or the willingness to accept protocols [from] the country that welcomed him. The withdrawal of his asylum occurred in strict adherence to international law. It is a sovereign decision. We do not make decisions based on external pressures from any country,” Moreno said.
He also asserted he had been given guarantees about Assange’s possible extradition to the US. “For us the maximum right to protect is the right to life,” he said. “For this reason, we consulted the government of the United Kingdom on the possibility of Assange’s extradition to third countries where he could suffer torture, ill-treatment or the death penalty. The United Kingdom extended written guarantees that if extradition is eventually requested he will not be extradited to any country where it may suffer such treatment.”
Moreno lambasted Assange’s treatment of his diplomatic staff in London. “Assange’s attitude was absolutely reprehensible and outrageous after all the protection provided by the Ecuadorian state for almost seven years. He mistreated our officials in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, abused the patience of Ecuadorians. He developed an aggressive campaign against Ecuador and started to make legal threats even against who was helping him.”
Any form of coexistence with Assange in the embassy became a headache, Moreno added.
“He maintained constant improper hygienic behaviour throughout his stay, which affected his own health and affecting the internal climate of the diplomatic mission. In addition, Assange had health problems that should also be resolved.
“We never tried to expel Assange, as some political actors want everyone to believe. Given the constant violations of protocols and threats, political asylum became untenable.”
Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson disputed allegations of poor behaviour on Assange’s part on Sunday.
“I think the first thing to say is Ecuador has been making some pretty outrageous allegations over the past few days to justify what was an unlawful and extraordinary act in allowing British police to come inside an embassy,” she told Sky. Pressed over the veracity of the allegations, Robinson said: “That’s not true.”
She said Assange’s fears of a US extradition threat were proved correct when the allegations were made that he conspired to hack into a classified Pentagon computer.
Her statement came after footage of Assange trying to skateboard inside the embassy was obtained by Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Assange’s father, John Shipton, who lives in Melbourne, urged the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, to help his son and suggested he could be brought back to his home country. Morrison “should in a nuanced way do something” to help, Shipton told the Herald Sun. “It can be resolved simply to the satisfaction of all.” Morrison has previously said Assange, an Australian citizen, would have consular assistance available to him but would not get special treatment.
Moreno said Assange could not use asylum to escape the law. “Under international law, Ecuador has safeguarded Assange’s basic rights but those rights cannot prevent him from appearing before the courts and responding to accusations against him. Political asylum cannot be used as a way to evade the consequences of committing crimes.”
Asked what he thought of Correa’s comments, Moreno replied: “If being a traitor means defending democracy, freedom of the press, as well as revealing the truth and corruption of the previous regime, then he can call me what whatever he wants. He is in within his rights to express himself freely.”
He dismissed Correa’s suggestion that he had thrown Assange out of the embassy as part of a deal under which the US would lobby to get his country’s debt lifted.
“It is a fallacy that there will be debt relief in exchange of Assange. This statement has been generated and disseminated by groups related to the previous regime that did not want to find a solution to the Assange case beyond having him locked up in our embassy.
“With the United States, we work on issues of cooperation, trade, culture and security. At no time has Assange’s status been negotiated with that country.”