Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño responds to recent reports Swedish prosecutors will seek to question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Assange has never been charged over allegations of sexual assault, yet he has been holed up in the embassy since 2012, fearing that if he steps outside, he will be arrested and extradited to Sweden, which could lead to his extradition to the United States — which is investigating Assange over WikiLeaks publishing classified documents. “We are pleased to see the Swedish prosecutors say that they now want to take the statements from Julian Assange at our embassy,” Patiño says. “But at the same time, we are concerned that 1,000 days have gone by, 1,000 days with Julian Assange confined in our embassy, before they say that they are going to do what they should have done from day one.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to turn to another topic: the situation of Julian Assange. He has been residing in your country’s embassy in London, and recently Swedish authorities offered to come to London to interview him. I’m wondering—this is a significant development, given the amount of time he has spent, basically in isolation, there in your embassy. Your comment and your reaction to the latest announcement of the Swedish authorities?
FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] We view favorably and we are pleased to see the Swedish prosecutors say that they now want to take the statements from Julian Assange at our embassy. But at the same time, we are concerned that 1,000 days have gone by, 1,000 days with Julian Assange confined in our embassy, before they say that they’re going to do what they should have done from day one, which was offered by the government of Ecuador. We told the Swedish prosecutory authorities, the Swedish government, that we were open and willing to facilitate conditions so that they could take a statement. And that’s the first action that the Swedish justice system should have in order to respond to the complaint by two persons who have lodged a complaint against Julian Assange. But the thing is, four-and-a-half years have elapsed since the complaint was lodged—two years where he had an electronic apparatus attached to him in London and then two more years in our embassy. And now the prosecutor says that she’s going to take the statement because the statute of limitations might run on the crime. The question is: Why did they let so much time go by? And who is going to pay Julian Assange compensation for 1,000 days of confinement? I reiterate, we are pleased with this decision, because it is recognition that they could have done it. The problem is, and they’ll have to explain, including to the—the Swedish prosecutors will have to explain to, among others, human rights bodies in Europe why they hadn’t done so before, because the violation of Julian Assange’s human rights, having had him confined 1,000 days in our embassy, and then recognizing that, yes, they should have done this earlier—well, somebody’s going to have to give an explanation.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the original decision that your country, Ecuador, made to allow Julian Assange to stay in the embassy, to grant him political asylum? And if he were able to leave the embassy, would he be able to come to Ecuador to live?
FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] Yes, he could do that. We have said and we have accepted his request for asylum for one fundamental reason: He said that he was the target of political persecution. And we were able to verify that that was the case, and that’s why we granted him asylum, because of this real fact that actually was happening, but also because we, countries, have the right to grant asylum, because asylum is established in fundamental human rights instruments, all the international treaties, including an asylum agreement that Ecuador has as a Latin American country. After we gave him asylum, we immediately asked the United Kingdom to offer safe conduct so as to be able to take him to our country, or whatever country he would like, where he would feel safe. So, once the U.K. offers the safe conduct, we’ll take Julian Assange to our country or wherever he would like to go where he feels safe. In principle, we thought that it could be Ecuador.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you had any discussions with the United States? Julian Assange has repeatedly said his concern is not with Sweden, that he would be willing to go to Sweden, but that he has never gotten assurances that Sweden will not extradite him to the United States. And it’s there that he’s concerned—we just spoke with his lawyer, Michael Ratner, who said there is an open investigation around WikiLeaks and charges of espionage and other such issues around the release of documents.
FOREIGN MINISTER RICARDO PATIÑO: [translated] Well, when we were offering the safe conduct, or, I should say, rather, asylum, before giving Julian Assange asylum, we consulted with the United States, and we asked whether any investigation had been opened. The answer was evasive. They simply told us that the matter regarding Julian Assange’s request for asylum in Ecuador is a matter that has to do strictly with your country, and, in any event, with a bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom, but that we have nothing to say. In other words, they didn’t give us any answer. But we do know—everybody knows it, because this is practically public information, even though it is under seal—that there is a proceeding that has been opened in the United States against Julian Assange. And considering how trials and investigations unfold in the United States against persons who are accused, in particular in proceedings, in matters such as this, well, of course, we’d be concerned about the outcome of the investigation into Julian Assange.
And it was also clear that there was political persecution, which is why we gave him asylum. And that is why we maintain our position with respect to Julian Assange. We believe that he is someone who has done great benefit to humankind in terms of revealing crimes that have occurred and that shouldn’t be kept hidden. This is the contribution that he has made. I’m not saying that we fully agree with everything that Julian Assange does. That’s different. When you grant asylum, you don’t turn the person into a saint. But we do think that the contribution in terms of the information that has been provided to the world has helped to open the eyes. Plus, he wasn’t the one who gave the information. It was communication media. And no proceeding has been pursued against them, just against Julian Assange, who they consider to be a dangerous man.
AMY GOODMAN: We are speaking with Ricardo Patiño, the foreign minister of Ecuador, here in our studios in New York. When we come back, we’ll talk to him about Ecuador’s case against ChevronTexaco for what it has done in Ecuador. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a moment.