The British government has refused to allow WikiLeaks head Julian Assange to leave the country for Ecuador despite the Ecuadorian government granting him asylum.
Since June, Assange has been laying low at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been avoiding extradition on charges of sexual assault brought by two women in Sweden. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement today that he was disappointed by Ecuador's decision to offer Assange asylum, and that the country will not allow Assange safe passage out of the U.K. to Ecuador.
"Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden," he said. "We must carry out that obligation and of course we fully intend to do so."
The situation has become something of a diplomatic flashpoint between the two countries. On Wednesday, the Ecuadorian government alleged Britain threatened to enter the embassy and arrest Assange.
"We are deeply shocked by the British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy," a spokesperson said in a statement.
During a press conference Wednesday, Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, released details of a letter that said: "You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the U.K., the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr. Assange in the current premises of the embassy," according to a report in The Guardian newspaper.
The British foreign office responded by saying the letter was only meant to clarify its position and that the British government is "still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution," the Guardian reported.
In his statement today, Hague said that his government's stance on extradition had nothing to do with Assange's involvement with WikiLeaks or the political position of the United States on the matter. Assange's supporters, however, have claimed the prosecution of Assange is political due to WikiLeaks' history of publishing sensitive government documents, including the release of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010 and the more recent leak of emails to and from Syrian political figures earlier this year.
"We will remain fully committed to seeking a legal and binding bilateral solution to this with the government of Ecuador, but it is important that everyone understands that as a nation under law, believing in the rule of law, we must ensure that our laws are respected and followed," Hague said.