QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador’s government said late on Friday that it rejected reports that it would imminently expel Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from its London embassy, where he has lived in asylum for nearly seven years.
Assange was “prepared” for expulsion from the building, a British friend of his said on Tuesday, after Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said he had “repeatedly violated” the terms of his asylum.
Moreno accused Assange of harming Ecuador’s relations with other countries by intervening in their politics and said he did not have the right to “hack private accounts or phones.” WikiLeaks said Moreno’s remarks were in retribution for WikiLeaks having reported on corruption accusations against Moreno, who denies wrongdoing.
In a statement, Ecuador’s foreign ministry denied it had reached an agreement with the British government to jail Assange if he left the embassy.
Ecuador “categorically rejects the fake news that have circulated recently on social networks, many spread by an organization linked to Mr Julian Assange, about an imminent termination of the diplomatic asylum granted to him since 2012,” it said.
The ministry said it reserved the right to terminate asylum when it considered it justified.
“By releasing information that distorts the truth, (Assange) and his associates express once again their ingratitude and disrespect to Ecuador,” it said.
Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation.
That probe was later dropped, but Assange fears he could be extradited to face charges in the United States, where federal prosecutors are investigating WikiLeaks.
Ecuador last year established new rules for Assange’s behavior while in the embassy, which required him to pay his medical bills and clean up after his pet cat. He challenged the rules in local and international tribunals, arguing they violated his human rights. Both courts ruled against him.
Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is linked to the Organization of American States, rejected Assange’s request that Ecuador ease the conditions it has imposed on his residence in the London embassy.
Assange says Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and is putting pressure on him by isolating him from visitors and spying on him. Ecuador has said its treatment of Assange was in line with international law, but that his situation “cannot be extended indefinitely.”
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by David Gregorio)