LONDON (AP) — British police stood poised Wednesday to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should he step out of the Ecuadorean Embassy — but authorities conceded he is beyond their grasp as long as he stays inside.
Mr. Assange says he is seeking political asylum at the South American nation’s diplomatic mission.
Police said that he had violated the terms of his bail, which include an overnight curfew, and “is now subject to arrest.” Police officers were stationed outside the Edwardian apartment block in the tony Knightsbridge district that houses the embassy, along with small group of pro-Assange protesters waving “Free Assange” placards.
Telephones at the embassy went unanswered Wednesday.
The British Foreign Office said as long as Mr. Assange remains inside, he is “beyond the reach of police.”
“We will seek to work with the Ecuadorean authorities to resolve this situation as soon as possible,” it said in a statement.
The 40-year-old Mr. Assange, an Australian, took refuge in the embassy a few doors down from the Harrods department store on Tuesday. He said he was seeking political asylum in Ecuador, whose leftist president, Rafael Correa, previously has offered words of support.
Mr. Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 at Sweden’s request. Since then he has been fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women in 2010.
He denies the allegations and says the case against him is politically motivated. He also claims extradition could be a first step in efforts to remove him to the United States, where he claims to have been secretly indicted over his website’s disclosure of 250,000 State Department cables. The leaks of the secret diplomatic exchanges deeply angered the U.S. government.
Asked about the case at a Geneva press conference, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said Mr. Assange was not being victimized.
“I don’t think he’s being persecuted because of his use of the Internet at all,” she said.
She said that “getting too enamored with the idea that Julian Assange is a whistle-blower missed the reality that confidentiality on the part of governments is not all bad.”
“In many cases it is used to protect people, and that must be balanced along with the preference for free flow of information,” she said.
Mr. Assange had all but run out of legal options in Britain, where the Supreme Court last week affirmed an earlier decision that he should be sent to Sweden. He still could apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and his lawyers have said they are considering doing that.