London – As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange celebrated receiving asylum from Ecuador, Britain had a humbling message for him: You will not be “granted a safe passage out of the UK.”
"We are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Julian Assange extradited to Sweden" Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday.
Hague said he was disappointed with Ecuador’s decision to offer Assange political asylum and said the country intends to do everything it can to see that Assange answers to allegations of “serious sexual offenses” in Sweden.
“We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the UK, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so. The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum. It is far from a universally accepted concept,” Hague said, adding that the decision had nothing to do with “Mr. Assange’s activities at Wikileaks or the attitude of the United States of America.”
Assange has been holed up in Ecuador’s London Embassy since June 19 in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he's wanted over allegations that he raped two women. He claims the sex was consensual.
Ecuador has two options to get him out of London: they could grant him an Ecuadorean citizenship and make him a member of the embassy staff, so that he would be protected by diplomatic immunity. Ecuador could also name Assange its representative to the United Nations. That would make him immune from arrest while traveling to U.N. meetings around the world.
London police have been stationed outside the embassy building since Assange holed up there in June. He could try to sneak past them in disguise, perhaps trying to lose pursuers in the aisles of the nearby Harrods department store. But he would be liable to arrest if identified.
Spiriting him to a private airfield or secluded port seems like an option, but legal experts say police will be vigilant for escape attempts.
"As soon as he steps off the premises, even if he goes through an embassy car, he can still be arrested — and will be," extradition lawyer Julian Knowles said.
Or he could be smuggled out, which has happened before.
In 1984, Britain refused to extradite Umaru Dikko, a former Nigerian government minister accused of corruption in his homeland. He was subsequently kidnapped outside his London home, drugged and stuffed in a shipping crate destined for Lagos as diplomatic luggage.
But the kidnappers made a crucial error: They didn't label the box a diplomatic bag. British Customs officials opened the crate at Stansted Airport and found Dikko, who was uninjured. Three Israelis and a Nigerian were convicted over the incident, which soured U.K.-Nigerian diplomatic relations for several years.
In 1964, a man named Joseph Dahan — who turned out to be Mordechai Louk, a Moroccan-born Israeli spying for Egypt — was abducted from a Rome cafe, drugged and placed in a trunk marked "diplomatic mail" addressed to the Egyptian foreign ministry. Italian authorities discovered the plot when an airport guard heard moaning coming from inside the trunk. The Times newspaper reported that Roman police said the specially adapted trunk was well worn and appeared to have been used for similar missions before.
Lawyer Alex Carlile said a diplomatic bag would have to go through a British airport or seaport, and if customs officials suspected it did not contain "legitimate diplomatic material," they would be within their rights to open it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.