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Political Asylum May Not Change Assange's Status

by VOA News August 16, 2012

Ecuador's decision Thursday to grant political asylum to Julian Assange may do little to change his situation in the short term.

The WikiLeaks founder remains inside of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been since June. Britain wants to extradite him to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.

British lawyer Roger Gherson tells VOA Ecuador's decision does not force the United Kingdom to change its position.

"The U.K. [United Kingdom] is not bound to recognize Ecuador's recognition of asylum status or refugee status for Mr. Assange," said Gherson. "As far as the U.K. authorities are concerned, I understand that he is in breach of his bail conditions and subject to arrest by the British police and subject to extradition to Sweden."

Gherson, an expert in British immigration law, says there may be no quick way to resolve Assange's case.

"It's now a political standoff between the United Kingdom government and the Ecuadorian government on how to to handle this problem," he adds.

Assange has said he fears Sweden would send him to the United States where he could face trial for the release of thousands of classified military documents on the WikiLeaks website. Assange has said he does not believe he would receive a fair trial in the U.S..

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino echoed those concerns when he announced Assange would be granted political asylum.

"The Ecuadorian government, after carrying out a fair evaluation of the situation explained to us by Mr. Assange and listening to his own arguments, shares the fears of the solicitant and assumes there is evidence which allow us to presume that he could face political persecution if the appropriate measures are not taken," he said.

Britain's Foreign Office expressed disappointment in Ecuador's decision but said it still planned to fulfill its obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden.

Both the United Kingdom and Ecuador ratified the United Nation's 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The measure requires signatories to consider whether a person could face persecution if handed over to another country.

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