QUITO/LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was “naturalized” as an Ecuadorean on Dec. 12, at his request, Ecuador’s foreign minister said on Thursday, adding that she was seeking a “dignified” solution to his situation with Britain.
Britain said earlier on Thursday it had refused a request by Ecuador for Assange to be given diplomatic status, a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office said.
Assange has been holed up for more than five years in the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he was granted asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.
Assange, who denies the allegations, feared Sweden would hand him over to the United States to face prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.
“Ecuador is currently exploring other solutions in dialogue with the UK, like good offices of renowned authorities, other states, or international organizations that could facilitate a just, final and dignified solution for all parties,” Ecuador’s foreign minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa told a press conference.
Espinosa confirmed Assange’s citizenship request and said she feared for threats to his life coming from third party states.
She did not give details on how granting Assange citizenship might help in avoiding his arrest by British police.
In May, Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation into the rape allegations, but British police have said Assange would still be arrested for breaching bail conditions if he left Ecuador’s London embassy.
“He sought naturalization from the foreign ministry on Sep. 16… It was granted on Dec. 12,” said Fernanda Espinosa.
Assange’s name has appeared in an Ecuadorean government database of citizen identification numbers, fuelling speculation that he may have received citizenship from the Andean country.
“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” said a British Foreign Office spokesman.
The former computer hacker enraged Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical U.S. appraisals of world leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Saudi royal family.
For some, Assange is a cyber hero for exposing government abuses of power and championing free speech but to others he is a criminal who has undermined the security of the West by exposing secrets.