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Europe

Assange stuck in extradition standoff

In Sweden he's threatened with a case for sexual offenses. In the US there's a possibility he could face the death penalty. Ecuador is willing to accept WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange - but he can't get there.

Julian Assange will have read the story of Cardinal Mindszenty. The anti-communist Hungarian religious leader spent 15 years as a political refugee in the US embassy in Budapest from 1956 to 1971.

Since the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, premises of diplomatic missions have been inviolate. That would have made it illegal for the British government to storm the embassy to take custody of Assange. "It would have been a violation of diplomatic law," international law expert Mehrdad Payandeh of the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf told DW.

Assange doesn't deserve asylum

Ecuador has already breached international law since Assange does not qualify as a political refugee under international law.

Media gather outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian Assange (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Assange made a statement over the weekend but his future is unsure

"A criminal case for sexual offenses is not political persecution under the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee," Andreas Zimmermann of the University of Potsdam told Deutschlandfunk radio, adding that Ecuador did not have the right to accept Assange in the embassy.

This legal breach could give the UK a chance to arrest Assange and extradite him to Sweden, according to Payandeh. The first step for the UK would be to declare the Ecuadorian ambassador and embassy staff persona non-grata. The second step would be to ask them to leave the country.

"Then the building would lose its protection and they could get to Assange," Payandeh said. "But that would be a very major measure."

Nowhere to go

It is largely accepted that Assange will not be able to flee to Ecuador.

"Even a helicopter that does not belong to the embassy would not be protected by diplomatic immunity," Zimmermann said.

Vehicles used for diplomatic purposes can be stopped - but not searched - by British police. "When it is suspected that it is not being used for diplomatic purpose but misused to transport a wanted person out of the country the car could be stopped for as long as they wanted," Payandeh said.

Collage of a person readig WikiLeaks and a portrait of Assange Photo: Jens Büttner dpa/lmv

WikiLeaks' work has been hampered by Assange's ordeal

Assange is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It seems the only way out of the Ecuadorian embassy is extradition to Sweden, where he said he fears he would be extradited again to the United States. Sweden, however, has pledged it would not send Assange to the United States if he would face the death penalty there.

US prosecutors have not requested Assange's extradition to the United States and Sweden would not be permitted to send him to a country where he could receive a death sentence if charged and convicted of a crime.

"The European Court of Human Rights prohibits people from being extradited to places where they are threatened by the death penalty," Payandeh said.

Should Assange go to Sweden and be found guilty by a court there, he would have to serve his sentence and could later still face extradition to the United States. Then the extradition would be governed by US-Swedish extradition treaties, Zimmermann said, adding that there would likely be sufficient reason for suspicion for Assange to be sent to the United States to face criminal charges.

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