(WASHINGTON) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum in Ecuador after taking refuge in its embassy in London Tuesday.
The Ecuadorian embassy in Washington, D.C., confirmed to ABC News that the 40-year-old Australian national, who faces extradition to Sweden over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women, was on the grounds of the embassy in London and had requested asylum. The Ecuadorian government said in a statement that it is “evaluating the request of Mr. Julian Assange and whatever decision that we adopt about him will take into account the respect for the norms and principles of international law.”
According to the Ecuadorian government’s statement, Assange said he was seeking asylum because his home country “had declared that they will neither defend nor guarantee the least [of my rights] in front of any government.”
“These statements make it impossible for me to return to my home and place me in a state of indefensibility,” the statement quotes Assange as saying.
Assange accused Sweden of investigating him because of “political crimes” in the United States, “a place with the death penalty for said offenses.”
Though it remains unclear how Assange reached the Ecuadorian embassy, news first broke of his seeking asylum on the WikiLeaks Twitter account, which tweeted, “Julian Assange has requested political asylum and is under the protection of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.”
Ecuador’s deputy foreign minister had indicated publicly in 2010 that Assange could come live in the South American country. “We are open to giving him residence in Ecuador, without any kind of trouble and without any kind of conditions,” said Kintto Lucas. Lucas is no longer the deputy foreign minister.
Assange has been under house arrest in a mansion in the British countryside since December 2010. He has hosted a television talk show on the international cable channel Russia Today, or RT, from the house since March. Last week, the highest court in Britain rejected his appeal to block his extradition to Sweden.
In August 2010, police in Sweden began investigating accusations of sexual assault against Assange made by two women. According to British police documents, one of the accusers claims Assange pulled her clothes off, pinioned her arms and legs and refused to use a condom. She told a friend that the act was both violent and the worst sex she’d ever had. A British attorney representing Swedish prosecutors told the court earlier this year that Assange had raped the second woman while she was sleeping.
Assange has denied any wrongdoing.
Last month, in a 5-2 vote, the British Supreme Court upheld the validity of an arrest warrant made by a Swedish prosecutor to question Assange over the assault accusations.
In its ruling, the court dismissed Assange’s argument that the Swedish Prosecution Authority, which issued the warrant in November 2010, did not have the legal authority to do so.
But the court also granted a request from Assange’s attorney for 14 days to make an application to reopen the case. The court rejected the bid to reconsider his case on June 14, clearing the way for him to be extradited to Sweden before the end of June.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Sheena McKenzie, CNN
Kareem Khadder, CNN
Barbie Latza Nadeau, Tim Hume and Vasco Cotovio, CNN