Ecuador claims UK threatens to barge in to embassy and grab Assange

The government of Ecuador says British authorities have threatened to barge into Ecuadorean embassy in London if officials there do not comply with demands to hand over Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been hiding out there while his request for asylum is considered.

"We are not a British colony," said the country's prime minister in a press conference today. "The days of the colony are over."

More at the NYT. If the claims are true, the threat to invade another country's embassy is unprecedented in the UK—particularly since Assange has not been charged with a crime. As I write this post, Wikileaks' twitter feed is publishing tweets that vans of police have surrounded the building. A decision on Assange's asylum bid is expected soon.

Declan McCullagh at CNET:

Police showed up at Ecuador's London embassy this evening, hours after the Ecuadorian government accused the U.K. government of threatening a raid to nab Wikileaks editor Julian Assange. A live video feed from citizen journalist James Albury showed police in the outer lobby of the red brick building, which is also home to private apartments and Columbia's embassy. But it wasn't clear whether police had entered the Ecuadorian embassy itself, which would be an extreme breach of diplomatic protocol.

Live-tweeters at the scene: Humunculus Flannel, James Albury.

Live video here. Alternate live stream here.

Ecuador, as some have noted, is a weird choice for a man known as a freedom-of-information advocate: the country's president has presided over a growing crackdown on journalists. CPJ reports that president Correa's administration "has led Ecuador into an era of widespread repression" against journalists, and press censorship.

Good luck with that.

Kevin Gozstola has a liveblog here.


  1. Is he a fugitive from justice, or a valid asylum claimant?  Honestly, I have no idea.  All of it seems simultaneously macabre and necessary.

    1. He’s wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct. 

      He’s so far from convicted that he will need a compass to find his way to charged and a map to find his way to tried. 

      Thereby he is definitely not a fugitive and if one govt threatens another in this manner instead of just jumping through the paperwork hoops to have him, he is certainly a valid asylum claimant. 

      This is a joke, Ecuador may not be a big player but it is definitely a sovereign state, and if the UK acts in this manner they effectively redefine the meaning of “sovereign state” in the UK to mean only nations that are militarily or economically equal to or greater than the UK and/or the US.

      It all becomes meaningless then, may as well inquire as to what party you will be required to join and what clothes the government would prefer you wear to prove your loyalty.

      1. He wasn’t a fugitive.  Not until he evaded a warrant for his arrest.  Sort of like if you are pulled over for speeding, you aren’t a fugitive … unless you try to speed away.  Running from cops is usually a crime in and of itself.  Doesn’t matter if it’s for something minor or not.

        1. And what if the thing the cops are after you for is a blown-out-of-proportion figleaf for a political agenda?  Kind of like Islamist cops wanting to get hold of you so you can be stoned to death for adultery.

      1.  He applied for asylum and they have not yet decided on it. At least if you actually read the link you posted.

      2.  An understandable mistake, they decided very recently and advised they would announce tomorrow (thursday), and they denied that they had granted asylum because they hadn’t yet decided/announced.

    2.  It is inspiring to see that the British government is so committed to protecting womens’ rights that they are willing to pursue an accused rapist to this extent.  Because this is about rape, right?  Not something else?

  2. If the UK really goes through with invading the sovereign soil of another country (foreign embassies are considered foreign soil, are they not?), in order to kowtow to the wants of the USA, we’re even more fucked than I’d thought.

    This is such a charade. 

    1. Embassies are granted extraterritoriality not sovereignty. Extraterritoriality is governed by British law. The UK is threatening to revoke their embassies extraterritorial status, making the embassy subject to British law again.

      1. The Vienna Convention is pretty serious business in diplomacy circles…

        I don’t think that the UK has entered a foreign embassy unilaterally since Operation Nimrod in 1980, and that was 6 days after armed gunmen had taken the place over, and only once they had begun killing hostages(also, it was the Iranian embassy, and the ongoing embassy siege in Tehran had rather soured diplomatic feelings at the time…)

      2. Revoking their status and moving in vs. invading their sovereign ground is a distinction without a difference. If extraterritorial status can be unilaterally revoked at the drop of a hat, what’s the point of having it in the first place?

        What Ecuador could do is grant Assange citizenship and then hire him as a member of their diplomatic corps…

          1. The Brits’ disapproval wouldn’t change much, if anything. If the Ecuadorians gave Assange a diplomatic passport, all the UK could do was declare him persona non grata, and require him to depart from British soil, but they still could not arrest him unless the Ecuadorians assented to it under those circumstances.

          2. Foreign Office went as far as putting in writing that they will not, under any circumstance, grant him safe passage. I wonder what it would happen if a “diplomated-up” Assange were to dare the streets of London.

            British Law is based on convention as well as words. Convention is built on precedents. This would make for a hell of a precedent.

          3. In fact diplomatic passports do not grant diplomatic immunity to the bearer. Diplomatic immunity is reserved for diplomatic corps and immediate family, while consular staff have limited diplomatic immunity. All diplomatic immunities are consented to by both the diplomat’s nation and the host nation.

            The Guardian article spells out pretty well what Assange’s/Ecuadors options are. 

            Personally I think the best option if the UK persists is for Ecuador to lock the doors, refuse entry even if UK ends the diplomatic relationship, and force UK to blow the doors open and use physical force to capture and subdue the occupants.

            That would be the appropriate response to the UK’s threats. It is clear to most anyone that the forces acting to capture Assange are doing so in a fishy manner. 

    2. “If the UK really goes through with invading the sovereign soil of another country (foreign embassies are considered foreign soil, are they not?), in order to kowtow to the wants of the USA, we’re even more fucked than I’d thought.”

      Two words: “Iraq War.”

      1. prepare for the Equador enquiry..coming to a newspaper stand near you in about 2 years, long after Assange has mysteriously died on his transport from UK to the US.

      1. If you score enough points, they sew a tiny, adorable, lawyer into a pouch implanted in your lower abdominal tissues. He pleads your case in a comical high-pitched voice and butters up the jury.

  3. Dear Xeni:

    As an avid BoingBoing reader and your follower of your twitter account I have to say that as an Ecuadorian I am proud of the actions taken so far by our government in terms of the Wikileaks/Assange situation.

    I also do not agree that President Correa has ‘presided over a recent crackdown on journalists’. Correa started two trials against two newspapers that deliberately presented false news, without checking facts or sources, something that in the U.S. would have signified an immediate federal investigation.

    The president won both trials and latter acquitted (or pardoned) the fines and jail terms of both the journalists and newspaper owners.

    As a documentary filmmaker I have to say that even though I am a critic of some of the choices taken by the government in terms of communications and culture we are living in a country that is starting a new era because we were used to be fed news fabricated by the owners of newspapers and television channels.

    This government created a law that made it illegal to bank owners to own mass media ending the cycle of big corporations fabricating news.

    In that sense the Ecuadorean government has used the information of the Wikileaks cables to prove the links between the U.S embassy and former president Lucio Gutiérrez to create lies in order to destabilize Correa’s policies.

    That is why Assange has trusted us, the possibility of an assault of the Ecuadorian Embassy from the British police could be a brutal precedent and is absolute proof of the influence that the American government has over David Cameron.

    As always I hope that this letter finds you well, I’ve been following the news of your health and I remain a fan of everything that you and BoingBoing represent.

    Best from Ecuador


    1. Correa started two trials against two newspapers that deliberately presented false news, without checking facts or sources, something that in the U.S. would have signified an immediate federal investigation.

      I know nothing about the state of journalism in Ecuador, but the conduct you say would result in “an immediate federal investigation” is by and large explicitly legal in the US (stemming from a court case involving Fox News), with narrow exceptions for libel (which is a civil tort, not a criminal offense) and fraud (which might be federally investigated for a newspaper sold in more than one state, but would more likely result in a local prosecution).

      The extent to which freedom of the press is protected in the US is hard to fathom to many outsiders – the problems with our mass media stem from corporate, not government control.

      1. “In that sense the Ecuadorean government has used the information of the Wikileaks cables to prove the links between the U.S embassy and former president Lucio Gutiérrez to create lies in order to destabilize Correa’s policies.”

        If the libel/defamation cases mentioned involved direct evidence of a deliberate attempt to destabilize government with the direct backing of a foreign power, I think the US response would be to investigate federally as that would be criminal. 

          1. The GOP is not a foreign power nor is Rupert accountable to a foreign government. And Obama is not the whole US govt, which the GOP seeks to control, not make a puppet to a foreign power.

            You can lie cheat and swindle in order to destabilize a party or politician as much as you want in the US, so long as you are doing it for the good of the nation, the way Fox claims to.

    2. I also greatly appreciate Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, assertion that “Today we have received from the United Kingdom an explicit threat in writing that they could assault our embassy in London if Ecuador does not hand over Julian Assange . . . we are not a British colony”.  Apparently that needed to be said!

  4. Jacob Applebaum tweets a valid response to an invalid act. Ecuador should do the civilized world a favour and grant asylum based on the threat alone.

  5. Such a huge break of centuries-old diplomatic protocols (those same protocols the British Empire exploited so ruthlessly) would be absolutely disproportional to the alleged crime, and forever expose British embassies around the world to unnecessary risks, the likes of which not even US embassies ever experienced. I don’t think it will happen, but hey, this government is strictly amateur-hour stuff, so who knows.

    This is a Tory/LibDem government trying to find a way to bury the incessant river of bad news about everything they do. From the economy to transportation to environmental policies, they’re failing hard; even the Olympics, a huge propaganda opportunity that Labour handed them on a silver plate, turned sour when it emerged that they were hoping to slash funding for sports activities as soon as possible, after selling off as many playing fields as they could.

    So, how do they fix their “image problem”? By escalating a pointless “us vs them” confrontation with a small, innocuous country, over some trivial matter nobody gives a shit about (except our American friends, whom we always like to keep sweet). It will stir some jingo, appeal to the law&order crypto-racists in their electorate, and get some love from the tabloids (so fond of publishing and re-publishing the most minutious details about the most sordid activities of Mr. Assange). It will buy them a few days or weeks of respite, breaking the news-cycle, leaving them free to plan the next round of Screw-The-Poor among friendly Old Etonians.

    1. It worked for Maggie over the Falklands. They’ll be dragging Cameron screaming from No. 10 in 15 years time.

    1. They did end up declaring the whole place personae non gratae, and telling them to GTFO, which is about as serious as diplomatic tiffs are supposed to get; but there does seem to have been some sort of embarrassing unofficial affection toward Libya (see also, the Lockerbie bomber being sent home because he looked so frail that he might die within the next decade…) I assume that lucrative petro contracts were definitely not involved.

      1. That Lockerbie bomber release business was soooo weak. Who the hell cares about where a mass murderer dies, no matter whose orders they acted on?

        “Oh dear, you do look frail, and you say you want to die at home? Well look here chap, why don’t you get the  hell over it, I’m going to die someday too and you don’t hear me whining about it to you, amiright? Now back in your cell.”

    2. I think this is why that law was introduced, as a consequence of PC Yvonne Fletcher being killed (I can still remember her name).

  6. I would really like to see the note the embassy got.  Was it a threat to invade?  Or was a reminder of embassy treaty obligations and the UK’s rights under the treaty?   The later seems the typical prissy thing to do in diplomatic blowups.

  7. It’s always very difficult to get a precise handle on the Assange story, but on the face of it, this development would seem to confer a HUGE legitimacy on his decision to try to avoid the trial in Sweden.

    1. I think a lot of the important information in that has already been provided to the press.  The primary difference is that the insurance file is unredacted, which would put a lot of people at risk.  In other words, it might not be a great idea to release it.

  8. If you are in the UK, contact any reasonably pro-civil liberty media and ask them to interview China, Cuba and any other nation where people have recently sought political asylum in foreign embassies.  Those nations should be asked the following: if  the UK revokes the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorean Embassy and arrests Assange, will they find this an interesting precedent they will consider in the future in their own nation?

    1. Wikileaks is a far greater danger to world governments than the occasional breach of diplomatic immunity. They might come to his defense just to annoy the US/UK, but nobody’s going to actually do anything about it.

      1. I would not expect more. But something as simple and vague as a statement by, say, China that “We would find this precedent very interesting and study it deeply” could play a  role in turning public opinion against this diplomatic breach.

        1. But China announces roughly every ten minutes that the US has “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

  9. Amazingly — but not surprisingly — not one mainstream news outlet is covering the UK invasion of the embassy. At least when I checked five minutes ago. One of the proofs to me that Wikileaks is in the right is the flat-out disregard for even the appearance of legality or propriety as governments go after him. It makes me wonder how much more damning information he has.

      1. (a) Bad choice of words, sorry.
        (b) I should have qualified that as American mainstream news outlet. Which at the time was true.

        1. (b) but then again, most of my US friends can’t stomach their mainstream news sources. I mean, what is an Equador? Is that like that ring around the center of the earth thingie? Shaddup already they are going to tell us the truth about Snookies baby daddy!

  10. The UK seems to be ready to give up the rule of international law and expose its own embassy staffs worldwide to similar incursions whenever the local populace feels disgruntled.
    All that to grab a publisher.

    1.  And a publisher who has already circulated an Insurance file in case he gets grabbed.   Wonder what’s in it?

    2. The UK seems to be ready to give up the rule of international law and expose its own embassy staffs worldwide to similar incursions whenever the local populace feels disgruntled.

      That ship sailed when sanity lost the waterboarding argument. The new Golden Rule is, Do unto others according to whim and hit them with a drone strike if they get uppity.

    3. The UK seems to be ready to give up the rule of international law

      Let’s be clear. If the UK ‘storms’ Ecuador’s embassy, this will be an entirely legal process. There’s a British law, the “Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987”, which allows the UK authorities to withdraw an embassy’s diplomatic status. However, this can’t be done arbitrarily – various conditions have to be met. If I understand correctly, the law was designed to deal with situations where criminal activity is being conducted from embassy premises, so it’s by no means clear that it applies in this case. Even if it’s decided that the law does apply, Equador is at liberty to challenge the ruling in the courts.

      1. That law is pretty untested – a blunt reaction from Thatcher to Yvonne Fletcher’s killing to appease the mob – and international law tends to trump domestic law particularly the aged Geneva conventions!

      2.  if they managed to raid the place under ‘suspicion of copyright infringement’ or something like that i think we would have hit the Boing Boing Outrage Jackpot.

  11. I am the first one to claim to extinguish the diplomatic privileges… in this Century there is no need even for embassies, not to mention they are a complete nest of para-legal activities and a waste of money!

    But what worries me here is how norms are applied in some cases and not others. A few years back Spain asked for the extradition of Pinochet while he was in UK, and UK went the extra mile not to extradite him… At the end UK blatantly violated the extradition laws it  is signatory to. 
    Now UK goes the extra mile to do a extradition over a broken condom and Sweden the extra mile to write such extradition too… one can see how governments bend rules as they please and the society is tired of all this selectivity.

    Criminals usually justify their ways that they are not much different than govs are and for once I believe them.

    1.  The UK is following the model of the Iranians who stormed the US embassy, and they’re doing it at the behest of the US. 

    2. I am the first one to claim to extinguish the diplomatic privileges.

      Diplomatic privilege became a joke when the US made it clear that every American in Pakistan was a diplomat and could evade justice.

          1.  I don’t know, the whole event is so ‘scaled’ out, the details on Davis keep shifting me into thinking I’m reading Count Zero, or Islands in the Net…

  12. I’m pretty much a right-wing nut case (at least by BB standards) and have no great love for Julian Assange, but embassies ought to remain pretty much inviolate.  Hell, the US invaded Panama, but what it *didn’t* do was bust into the Papal Nuncio in order to get Manuel Noriega out of there.  The US negotiated with the Vatican, Noriega and his lawyers to get his surrender.

    1. Of course the US didn’t invade the Papal Nuncio – there was that whole Christ thing involved.  If it’d been a mosque or some other “our voters don’t give a shit about this religion” religious building, it would’ve been burned to the ground if necessary.

    2.  Right-wing nut cases should be the most concerned about this kind of shit if they actually believe in small government.  That would require some kind of ideological consistency though which I see very little of in the right wing.

  13. Hang on, easy everyone, they havnt gone into the embassy yet!  Save the outrage until that happens. It is going to interesting seeing an Assange shaped diplomatic bag though…

  14. We are outraged at the threat.  And trying to put pressure on to see that it remains a threat and is not carried out. Waiting until it is actually  carried out to get angry would be useless. The point is to  make the UK government see the outrage they will provoke before they try to carry it out.

  15. I think that if police do enter the embassy, many brits, myself included, will want to know why it is possible in this case when it was not when WPC Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down from inside the Libyan embassy. That’s going to be hard to explain away, and will make many people very angry.

    I don’t care for Assange, because I think his poor decisions are a huge distraction from what he claims to be trying to do (which I absolutely *DO* support), but the behaviour of the UK and Swedish authorities in this matter suggests that his fears are not unfounded.

      1. Yes, have caught up with that now.
        Two points: –

        – If that law was effective, they could have rushed something like it through during the Libyan embassy siege – they surely would have had support. That was at least arguably a case that would justify such a course of action.

        – International law re. the Vienna Convention trumps it in any case (and would have in the Libyan case, too), so the real issue is what those in power feel they could get away with.

        That they did not care to find a way in the case of WPC Fletcher but do in this case,  makes me very angry.

        The refusal of the Swedish authorities to question Asssange anywhere other than Sweden, taken together with this dangerous precedent, does a better job of justifying Assange’s fears than anything Assange has said to date.

        I smell fish…

    1. Live stream thinks I need to take Advil Nightime in french. (before moving on the the actual live stream) 

       Some days I wonder about the Ad server algorithms. After midnight, from Canada – Must want pain relieve ad in french. Read article on Chick-Fil-A must want to date gay men. Actually after i read the boing boing article on Anderson Cooper coming out apparently something stopped serving me up ads for single females for quite a while.

  16. Boing Boing:
    “the country’s president has presided over a growing crackdown on journalists. CPJ reports that president Correa’s administration “has led Ecuador into an era of widespread repression” against journalists, and press censorship.”

    compare that to the Guardian article:

    “As anyone who is familiar with the Ecuadoran media knows, it is uncensored and more oppositional with respect to the government than the US media is.

    The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has mounted a similar political campaign against Ecuador, falsely charging:
    “Correa’s administration has led Ecuador into an era of widespread repression by systematically filing defamation lawsuits and smearing critics.”

    What HRW and CPJ are doing is taking advantage of the fact that few people outside of Ecuador have any idea what goes on there. They then seize upon certain events to convey a completely false impression of the state of press freedom there.”

    Seems like BB has been fooled by the CPJ and is repeating their false accusations.

    1. It is hard to grok the depth and breadth of distortion that even the little news and politics we get from Latin America goes through here in these English-speaking United States. When I started learning about contemporary Latin American politics I was truly amazed how awful the information I was getting from every mainstream channel was, how cherry-picked and distorted. Often the omissions shocked me the most, coups and constitutions going entirely unremarked. The vastness of the disinformation network in that regard can’t be overstated, nor can the paucity of events we hear about at all coming from south of our border. Even the leftiest of the media Left seem to either sprout pure propaganda regarding Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, and Haiti out of nowhere and without blinking (Steward and Colbert, NPR, Xeni. Not implying malice!), or otherwise benignly ignore Latin America. Most English-language sources of news out of the South comes straight from US-based oligarchs who control corporate media in their home territory and are distinctly not interested in word spreading of not just their coups, but of successful socialist and union movements.  The Hegemony seems truly afraid that the inspiring, effective anti-imperialist movements in what should be completely conquered Southern territory will  spread North, I think.

      1. I wouldn’t take one bit of information about South America from a US news source as valid. Not for many many years. Neither do I accept accounts from partisan left publications. It’s too polemic. I think the best thing is to leave those people alone, haven’t they been picked on and invaded enough over their governmental preferences?

  17. Why doesn’t  England/UK just revoke Ecuador’s asylum and or sovereign status upon their lands, thereby flushing  Assange into their jurisdiction.  To me it seems a more legal if no less brutish avenue of action for western conservative ideology.  

    **this does not discuss or promote my personal views on the subject, but merely offers a course of thought on the events**

    1. They are more or less threatening to do that, with  a one-week-notice. 

      If you could revoke diplomatic immunity on a whim, it wouldn’t be worth anything and a lot of Western personnel would learn that the hard way. 

      1. Whim is exactly all that constitutes any and all boundaries both real and imagined.  Will and whim of a group is what has created our distances as a people, God willing.

  18. Just an idle thought but is Ecuador one of the South American countries that supports Argentina’s claim to the Falkand Islands by any chance?

    looks like he has been granted asylum – police are making arrests of protesters, do you think we will see an attempt to make a break for a diplomatic vehicle?

    all it would take is a protestor to shout “look over there – a public school wig wearing out of date cnut making sense and not licking the arse of Uncle Sam” and whilst everyone stares where he’s pointing in total wonderment Julian legs it – job done.

  20. He’s been accused of some pretty tawdry crimes in Sweden, and it seems like he has a genuine case to answer there.  It also seems very silly for a person who believes in total freedom from secrecy to be so unwilling to stand up and defend himself in court.

    1. His real fear is that the Swedes will turn him over to the US and he will rot for a long time in a place like Gitmo.

      1. That’s true, but the assumption that the Swedish charges are irrelevent or simply an evil conspiracy is irritating.

        1. If the Swedish authorities would answer why they refuse to treat Assange as any other person wanted for questioning in this manner would be and question him in a police station in Britain, then you might have a point. 

          Not only is it unprecedented that an embassy or consulate would be entered in this manner for this purpose, it is also unprecedented that an individual wanted over the affair in question in Sweden is the subject of extradition for mere questioning, or a European Arrest Warrant for that matter.

          A valid analogy, if a cop pulls you over for speeding, then draws their weapon on you, cuffs you, searches you, detains you indefinitely, and all the while asserts that it is over the speeding allegation.

          1. I don’t know anything about the precedents for extradition, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me in this case.
            No-one has entered the Ecuadorian embassy yet!  I agree that it would be ludicrous if they did, but I also think the court which granted him bail has a right to be furious with Assange, and to have him arrested at any opportunity for breaking the terms.  I also doubt that in any other circumstances Assange would have much respect for all the precious diplomatic protocols that might soon be violated.

          2. I don’t know anything about the precedents for extradition…

            And yet, you clearly have internet access. Some people look things up before declaiming their position on them.

          3. Courts are not furious. When they are they ought not be heeded. 

            The rest of your post consists of you not knowing the details of any aspect so I can’t really answer it.

    2. he has been asking for the swedes to guarantee to NOT extradite him over to GITMO Uncle Sam.
      Which seems like a perfectly reasonable request – they have refused. 
      If he is believed to be guilty of sexual assault then yep he should stand trial but I can’t see a reason why the guarantee can’t be given.

      1. I guess the sexual assault is the only alleged crime the swedes are interested in.  It seems fair to wait to rule on his extradition until they’ve received a request – there’s no reason to think it would be judged unfairly.
        I just find it hard to see this whole affair as a triumph for freedom over tyranny.

        1. It seems fair to wait to rule on his extradition until they’ve received a request – 
          JA and team have been asking for a guarantee for quite a while I believe. Sure go to Sweden and face rape charges but why no guarantee on extradition – no rape charges to be faced in USA.

          At least that is my understanding.

  21. Does the UK normally risk starting wars because someone is wanted for questioning in a third country?

    No, really?  It’s almost as if there was some sort of alternate reason for wanting him.

    Until now they’ve had plausible deniability that they were just going along with it.  With the number of serious crimes that happen in the UK every year, should a guy wanted for questioning really be their top priority?

    I’m not saying hit did or didn’t do what he is accused of, but I will point out that at this stage is still an accusation; no formal charges have been presented.  They haven’t even said that they intend to press charges when they get him.

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