QUITO, March 29 — Ecuador yesterday said it has stopped Julian Assange’s ability to communicate to the outside world from its London embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder has been holed up since 2012.
The decision was taken because the Australian had broken a 2017 promise to not interfere in other countries’ affairs while in the mission, an Ecuadoran government statement said without elaborating.
Under that deal, Assange had pledged “to not send messages that could be seen as interference in relations with other countries,” the statement said, adding that it could take other, unspecified measures if he persisted.
The move to cut off Assange came after he used Twitter on Monday to challenge Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the March 4 nerve agent poisoning of a Russian former double agent in the English city of Salisbury.
Assange also questioned the decision by Britain and more than 20 countries to retaliate against the poisoning by expelling Russian diplomats deemed spies.
The comments prompted a British Foreign Office minister, Alan Duncan, to brand Assange a “miserable little worm” who should leave the embassy to turn himself over to British authorities.
In another tweetstorm on Tuesday, Assange attacked the arrest in Germany of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont under an EU warrant issued by Spain over Puigdemont’s failed bid last year to declare independence for his Spanish region.
Assange’s “behavior, with his messages on social networks, puts at risk our good relations” with Britain and the European Union, the Ecuadoran government text said.
Assange, 46, has spent much of his time in his small room in the embassy tweeting and at times contributing to RT, a Russian state-owned television channel that broadcasts Kremlin messaging, as well as taking part in media conferences via video link.
In 2016, Ecuador briefly suspended his internet connection for posting documents online that were seen as having an impact on the US presidential election from which Donald Trump emerged the victor.
In May 2017, Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno asked Assange to refrain from commenting on the separatist crisis in Spain’s Catalonia region, after he tweeted that Madrid was guilty of “repression.”
An analyst, Michel Levi of the Simon Bolivar Andean University, said he believed the decision to render Assange incommunicado “isn’t a change of policy in terms of his asylum, but rather to keep him to his conditions” of staying in the embassy.
Assange took refuge in the diplomatic mission in 2012 after a British judge ruled he should be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault there.
Assange claims the accusations were politically motivated and could lead to him being extradited to the United States to face imprisonment over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret US military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010.
Sweden dropped its investigation last year, but British authorities say they still want to arrest him for breaching his bail conditions.
Ecuador in December made Assange an Ecuadoran citizen and unsuccessfully tried to register him as a diplomat with immunity as part of its efforts to have the WikiLeaks founder leave the embassy without risk of being detained.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, said yesterday that a delegation would meet with Assange’s lawyers in London next week “to explore what alternatives” existed to have Assange be able to leave the embassy.
“We continue to hold dialogue with the United Kingdom to seek a definitive and durable solution to this situation,” she added. — AFP