QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuador’s president has ramped up pressure on Julian Assange to leave his country’s embassy in London, saying that Britain had provided sufficient guarantees that the WikiLeaks founder won’t be extradited to face the death penalty abroad.
Lenin Moreno’s comments in a radio interview Thursday suggest that months of quiet diplomacy between the U.K. and Ecuador to resolve Assange’s situation is bearing fruit at a time when questions are swirling about the former Australian hacker’s legal fate in the U.S.
“The road is clear for Mr. Assange to take the decision to leave,” Moreno said, referring to written assurances he said he had received from Britain.
Moreno didn’t say he would force Assange out, but said the activist’s legal team is considering its next steps.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012, when he was granted asylum while facing allegations of sex crimes in Sweden that he said were a guise to extradite him to the U.S.
But his relations with his hosts have soured to the point that Moreno earlier this year cut off his access to the internet, purportedly for violating the terms of his asylum by speaking out on political matters.
Assange in turn sued, saying his rights as an Ecuadorian – he was granted citizenship last year as part of an apparent attempt to name him a diplomat and ferry him to Russia – were being violated.
The mounting tensions has drawn Moreno closer to the position of Britain, which for years has said it is barred by law from extraditing suspects to any jurisdiction where they would face capital punishment.
But nothing is preventing it from extraditing him to the U.S. if prosecutors there were to pledge not to seek the death penalty.
Assange has long maintained the he faces charges under seal in the U.S for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.
Those fears were heightened when U.S prosecutors last month mistakenly referenced criminal charges against him in an unrelated case.
The Associated Press and other outlets have reported that Assange is indeed facing unspecified charges under seal, but prosecutors have so far provided no official confirmation.