Julian Assange has made no secret that the Ecuadorian Embassy is a boring, cramped, poorly-lit place to reside (with underwhelming dining options), but he'll have to get used to it: After a heated diplomatic row last week, Britain and Ecuador are back to square one with regards to his extradition status.
On Saturday, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Britain withdrew its threat to break into Ecuador's London embassy and arrest the WikiLeaks co-founder, a warning that drew criticism from the Washington-based Organization of American States, which condemned it as an "unacceptable" breach of international law. Receiving assurances from Britain that it would not forcibly enter the embassy, Correa said "We consider this unfortunate incident over, after a grave diplomatic error by the British in which they said they would enter our embassy." Then, on Sunday, Britain's Foreign Office announced its intentions to resolve the situation diplomatically, saying, "We remain committed to the process of dialogue we have entered into and we want that to resume with the government of Ecuador," read a statement. "We believe that our two countries should be able to find a diplomatic solution."
Unfortunately for Assange, Britain re-affirmed its legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden, a duty it will carry out the minute he steps foot outside the embassy. In Assange's defense, Correa said he shares his fears that Sweden will extradite him to the United States to face charges for leaking thousands of State Department cables in 2010. Needless to say, with rape allegations still lingering in Sweden and the U.S. insisting it's not meddling in the case, Assange's legal status has become a confusing plot line to follow, as The Onion spoofed recently: "Not Even Julian Assange Clear on What's Going On With Him Right Now." Per the wits at The Onion:
“So wait, what exactly is my current status, and which countries can I go to?” asked Assange, adding that he is also “pretty hazy” on the outstanding criminal charge, or charges, against him at this point. “I think I’m wanted for questioning in Sweden, but if I go there they can apparently extradite me to the United States or something?
To clear things up, here are the four developments lawyers say could break this diplomatic impasse at the moment.
- Sweden can question Assange in London. Assange's lawyers have pleaded with Swedish officials to simply question Assange in London about the outstanding rape allegations against him, which would prevent him from setting foot on Swedish soil and risking a transfer to the U.S. So far, Swedish prosecutors have refused. According to AFP, the "prosecution has repeatedly stressed that he needs to be in Sweden while the preliminary investigation is ongoing so that he is available to answer any questions that may come up." Last week, the Swedish prosecution authority said "There is a need during questioning with Assange to be able to present him with, and question him about, the evidence that comes forth in the investigation.” Assange's lawyers say that is insufficient grounds to require his presence.
- Sweden can guarantee he won't be extradited. Assange's lawyers have also tried another line of bargaining, saying Assange will agree to go to Sweden if the country guarantees Assange won't be extradited to the U.S. So far, Sweden hasn't gone so far as ruling out an extradition, but it has promised it won't ship Assange off if he's headed for death row. “We will never surrender a person to the death penalty,” a deputy director of Sweden’s Justice Ministry said recently. However, the director would not "guarantee in advance that Assange will not be extradited." Still, the ministry said it has not received an extradition request from the U.S. and the U.S. maintains it has no such extradition request or "witch hunt," as Assange charged.
- Assange can attempt to fly to Ecuador. It's anyone's guess what would happen if Assange attempted to fly to Ecuador. Britain vows it will arrest him on the spot, and that's likely what would happen. But it's possible the country would seek to avoid a confrontation and let him go.
- Assange can give himself up. Though he's showing no signs of yielding, Assange may ultimately tire of the impasse and give himself up for questioning in Sweden. At least as Swedish officials are concerned, they have promised Assange has nothing to fear as long as he's innocent, saying the country's justice system would give him a fair trial. But barring any of these aforementioned events, it's not clear how this case moves forward.