WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange rejected a deal between Ecuador and Britain Thursday that Ecuador’s president said would allow him to finally leave the embassy, according to reports.
President Lenin Moreno said in a radio interview Thursday that his government had reached an understanding with British authorities that would clear the way for Assange to exit the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living since June 2012.
Moreno, who has made no secret of his desire to get the 47-year-old Australian out of the building, said Britain had agreed not to deport Assange to any country where he could face the death penalty, and that it was in Assange’s best interest to turn himself in.
“The way has been cleared for Mr. Assange to take the decision to leave in near-liberty,” he said.
But Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack, who has long maintained his client will not accept any deal that risks his extradition to the United States, said the proposal was a non-starter.
“The suggestion that as long as the death penalty is off the table, Mr Assange need not fear persecution is obviously wrong," Pollack told the Telegraph newspaper.
"No one should have to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information. Since such charges appear to have been brought against Mr. Assange in the United States, Ecuador should continue to provide him asylum.”
Assange took asylum in the embassy after British courts ordered his extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual assault case. The case has since been dropped, but Assange’s main concern is being handed over to U.S. authorities.
Assange has been under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department since WikiLeaks published thousands of classified military files stolen by former U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010, and a court filing in Virginia last month revealed he has been charged under seal with unspecified offenses.
WikiLeaks is also a focus for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors are particularly interested in the organization’s role in publishing thousands of emails stolen from Democrats by Russian agents.
Ecuador has become increasingly exasperated with its demanding house guest. Earlier this year, Moreno cut Assange’s phone and internet connections, and said he was banning the activist from making statements that could impact Ecuador’s relations with other countries. In October, Assange filed a lawsuit over new embassy rules that required him to pay for his internet and laundry and clean up after his cat.
Assange argued that the new stipulations violated his human rights and were part of a push to get him out of the embassy, while Ecuador insisted they were aimed at making their continued cohabitation work in the cramped building, where their guest takes up more than a third of the space.
Cover image: Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. Julian Assange, founder of the Wikileaks website that published US Government secrets, has been wanted in Sweden on charges of rape since 2012. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)