WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange waves from a window with Ecuador's Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patino (R) at Ecuador's embassy in central London June 16, 2013. (Reuters / Chris Helgren)
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange took shelter in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London one year ago Wednesday, sparking a standoff with UK authorities that could leave the world-renowned whistleblower cooped up for years to come.
When Assange first made his asylum bid 365 days ago, the tense standoff that ensued seemed likely to ignite an international incident.
British authorities "warned" Ecuador that they could raid its embassy and arrest Julian Assange if he was not handed over, a move the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister charged would be a "flagrant violation" of international law.
Although the situation has significantly calmed since then, the UK's commitment to arresting Assange remains unwavering.
Britain has vowed it will do everything in its power to block Assange's passage to Ecuador despite being granted asylum by Quito in August 2012. Downing Street commitment to securing Assange's extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sex crime allegations by two women, has manifested itself in a year-long police presence outside of the embassy building in Knightsbridge, London. As of Wednesday, the Telegraph estimates that policing the Ecuadorian Embassy has cost British taxpayers in excess of $6.6 million dollars.
Following talks between Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and his British counterpart William Hague on Monday, both sides agreed to keep the channels of communication open, but "no breakthrough" was made on the Assange case.
Patino said he remained in good spirits despite his limited living accommodations which Assange likened to living in a space station.
The Ecuadorean government stood by its decision to grant Assange asylum, vowing there would be no changes in his circumstances.
This photo courtesy of the Ecuador Foreign Ministry shows British Foreign Minister William Hague and Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino(L)as they hold a meeting in New York on September 27, 2012 to discuss the situation of granting asylum to Julian Assange in Ecuador. (AFP Photo/Fernanda Lemarie)
Patino met with Assange on Sunday and said that, despite his ordeal, he remains in good spirits.
"I got to tell him for the first time, face-to-face, that the government of Ecuador maintains its firm decision to protect his human rights," Patino said. The Wikileaks founder expressed his willingness to spend the next half-decade cooped up in the basement room of a building which he described as so dim, he utilizes a lamp mimicking blue sky, set to a timer, least he work all night, the Guardian's Esther Addley reports.
But with a steady stream of supporters providing him amenities, a personal trainer, a treadmill and high speed Internet, Assange believes five years in those conditions are vastly preferable to the alternatives.
His detractors believe he is using his notoriety to escape the Swedish justice system. Assange, in writing to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa one year ago, said he was being persecuted and could not return to his native Australia, fearing he could be extradited to "a foreign country that applies the death penalty for the crime of espionage and sedition."
Ecuador concluded "his fears are legitimate."
Assange claims the same imperilment has been the driving force behind his decision to avoid returning to Sweden for questioning. He has previously expressed his willingness to answer queries from Swedish investigators on condition that he receives strong guarantees that he won't be extradited the United States, where he believes he will be tried for his role in the 2010 US diplomatic cables leak -- the largest such disclosure in the country's history. Those guarantees have not been forthcoming.
Despite his willingness to remain in limbo, Assange believes the US is softening towards his plight, claiming a deal could be reached between Ecuador and the UK which would see him finally step foot outside of the embassy "within a year."
"I think the position in the UK is softening," he told the AFP news agency. "Of course, it will never publicly humiliate the United States by offering me safe passage in a manner that doesn't seem to be forced."
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