- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Swedish authorities have reportedly asked Ecuador for permission to interrogate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside its London embassy amid an international impasse now in its fifth year.

Ecuador’s foreign minister, Guillaume Long, said Sweden’s attorney general has formally requested an in-person interview with Mr. Assange concerning accusations of sexual assault being considered in Stockholm district court, The Guardian reported Monday.

The WikiLeaks founder has been wanted for questioning in Sweden since allegations of rape first surfaced in 2010, and authorities there upheld a warrant for his arrest on May 25. Mr. Assange has said he fears he’ll be extradited to the United States if he appears in Sweden, however, where he could be charged with espionage and other high crimes in connection with WikiLeaks’ publication of classified government documents.

Ecuador’s decision to grant Mr. Assange asylum in 2012 has allowed him to reside within its London embassy during the last four years despite being wanted abroad, but Swedish authorities could potentially dismiss the arrest warrant if investigators are allowed to conduct the interview and end their investigation without filing charges.

“Interviewing Mr. Assange inside the embassy has been Ecuador’s request for four years. Over 1,400 days we have been asking the Swedes to come and interrogate him in our embassy. So it is welcome there has been change of heart and some sign of political will,” Mr. Long said, The Guardian reported.

“But since November 2010 and March 2015 Sweden made 44 such requests to other countries to interview suspects in other cases. So it is very common and could be easily done, but we faced total refusal for years.”

Despite the request being welcomed by Ecuador, Mr. Long said the country’s legal department will have to review the appeal and be assured that neither the U.S. or U.K. will take action if the interview occurs: Army Private Chelsea Manning is currently serving 35 years in prison for providing documents to WikiLeaks after being convicted of espionage by court-martial, and the Dept. of Justice has been actively conducting its own investigation into the website since 2010.

Additionally, the foreign minister told The Guardian that Ecuador’s will assess the request with regards to a February ruling made by an United Nation working group that found Mr. Assange’s confinement within the Embassy has amounted to “arbitrary detention.”

Sunday marked the beginning meanwhile of Mr. Assange’s fifth year within the embassy, and Mr. Long said the confinement has started taking a toll on the WikiLeaks founder.

“We are concerned about his health. He doesn’t have access to good health care. We are very worried about this. After four years, there is a clear deterioration,” he told BBC.

“Ecuador is getting very fed up with this. It is an embassy under siege. You try making a phone call from the embassy and see if that works. It’s probably one of the most spied on embassies in the world.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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