Speculation is swirling over Julian Assange’s future after Ecuador’s president said he must ultimately leave the country’s London embassy, where he has lived for six years.
Lenín Moreno’s comments about the Australian-born WikiLeaks founder, made at an event in Madrid, follow reports that discussions were held between senior officials from Ecuador and Britain about how to remove Assange from the embassy if his asylum were revoked.
Assange was granted refuge at Ecuador’s embassy in 2012 while he was on bail in the UK over sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden.
The Swedish criminal investigation was dropped in 2017, but the British arrest warrant for breaking his bail conditions remains active.
Assange and his supporters believe being taken into custody by UK police would pave the way for his extradition to the US to face trial for WikiLeaks’ publication of US diplomatic and military secrets.
The embassy cut off Assange’s internet connection, computers and phones several months ago, although he still speaks to his lawyers. In May, Moreno ordered the withdrawal of additional security from the building.
The Intercept news website reported that Moreno, who has previously described Assange as an “inherited problem”, was close to evicting him from the embassy.
A source speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters: “The situation is very serious. Things are coming to a head.” He described the state of affairs inside the embassy as “not looking good”.
What would happen if Julian Assange left the Ecuadorian embassy?
Julian Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in central London since August 2012. He initially sought asylum following a series of legal challenges through British courts to a European arrest warrant issued by Sweden, where he was accused of rape and sexual assault, which he denies.
In February, a judge upheld a warrant for his arrest for skipping bail, meaning that although Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into alleged sexual offences, Assange faces being arrested if he leaves the embassy, and fears he would be subsequently extradited to the US for questioning about WikiLeaks’ activities.
The Ecuadorian and UK governments have downplayed suggestions of Assange’s imminent removal.
In a statement before Moreno’s comments, Ecuador’s foreign ministry said: “The Ecuadorian state will only talk and promote understandings about Mr Assange’s asylum, within the framework of international law, with the interested party’s lawyers and with the British government.
“At the moment, due to the complexity of the topic, a short or long-term solution is not in sight.”
The UK Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan told parliament last month that the government was increasingly concerned about Assange’s health.
“It is our wish that this is brought to an end, and we would like to make the assurance that if he were to step out of the embassy, he would be treated humanely and properly,” Duncan said.
“The first priority would be to look after his health, which we think is deteriorating.”
The UK Foreign Office declined to comment.