South American states back Ecuador on Assange

August 20, 2012
The South American have backed Ecuador in its standoff with Britain over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
 
During a meeting in Ecuador's biggest city Guayaquil on Sunday, foreign ministers of Union of South American Nations (UNASUR expressed "solidarity" with Ecuador and supported Quito's decision to grant asylum to Assange, AFP reported.
 
On Thursday, Ecuador granted political asylum to Assange, triggering a diplomatic row with London, which vowed to arrest him the moment he stepped out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and insisted it would still move to extradite him.
 
According to a joint statement read by UNASUR Venezuelan Secretary General Ali Rodriguez at the end of the meeting, the 12-member union expressed support for Ecuador over the "threat of violation of its diplomatic mission" and reiterated the "sovereign right of states to grant asylum."
 
Britain has threatened to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to seize Assange who sought refuge there on June 19 in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden.
 
Assange had embarked on a marathon round of court battles but finally exhausted all his options under British law in June when the Supreme Court rejected his appeal against extradition.
 
The WikiLeaks founder was accused of committing rape and other sexual crimes in Sweden after the whistleblower made U.S. “secret” and “top secret” documents publicly available on the website, despite intense efforts by U.S. officials to stop him.
 
Assange has maintained that he is innocent and claims the allegations against him are politically motivated. He says that if he is extradited to Sweden, the authorities there could hand him over to the United States, where he could be prosecuted for his role in leaking classified documents.
 
The 41-year-old Australian activist gained international prominence in 2010 when WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, which embarrassed the U.S. government. The website has also published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents relating to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
On Sunday, Assange berated the United States from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, demanding President Barack Obama end a witch-hunt against his whistle-blowing website, Reuters reported.
 
Speaking from within the London mission to avoid being detained by British police who want to extradite him to Sweden for questioning over rape allegations, Assange said the United States was fighting a war against outlets like WikiLeaks.
 
Assange said the United States risked dragging the world into a dangerous era in which journalists would fall silent. 
 
"As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all of our societies," Assange said, dressed in a maroon tie and blue shirt, and flanked by the yellow, blue and red Ecuadorean flag. Dozens of British policemen lined up on the pavement below.
 
"I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks," Assange said in a 10-minute speech which he ended with two thumbs up to the world's media.