Julian Assange
Julian Assange

The government of Ecuador has granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum, citing genuine fears over his safety and security.

Talking at a press conference in Ecuador's capital of Quito, foreign minister Ricardo Patino said that Assange was struggling for freedom of speech around the world.

He cited Assange's fear for his "personal security, life and liberty." Patino detailed threats facing Assange, including extradition and a harsh prosecution process in the US.

"Legal evidence shows Assange would not face a fair trial in the U.S., facing a military or special tribunal, condemned to life in prison or death penalty," he said.

"The accusations made against him justify political asylum," Patino said.

The Foreign Office said on Twitter they are "disappointed" by the statement from Ecuador's foreign minister, but they remain "committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act".

Earlier, Ecuadorian officials argued that the Foreign Office had begun using "threatening and intimidating" language when discussing Assange's fate.

Ecuador's foreign minister reiterated the country's fury over what is sees as a "threat" issued by Britain with a letter delivered by local British diplomats in Quito.

The Foreign Office threatened the Ecuadorian government in a letter that it would "take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the embassy."

Patino said that the "negotiations process regarding Assange cannot be hindered by official communications to Ecuador."

"We cannot believe they have been honest with this position," he said.

"The UK is basically saying if you don't behave we will beat you savagely," he said. "I'm going to hit you hard, but if you behave I might not.

"Ecuador asks immediately [for a] ministerial meeting to deal with this threat and coordinate response and will not leave this action unpunished. We ask for an apology in regards to that."

He claimed the letter was "a clear attack on Ecuador's rights to grant asylum".

"We are surprised," he said. "UN and Vienna Convention prohibit violating diplomatic space."

Ecuador's decision came after the Foreign Office pointed out that the UK would refuse safe passage for Assange, even if granted asylum.

"Giving Julian Assange asylum will not change anything. Britain has a legal duty to extradite him to Sweden," tweeted the official account of the Foreign Office.

Ecuador said the arrest of Assange would move diplomatic relations to "dark ages."

Assange has been staying in the Ecuador embassy since June 19 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexually assaulting two women.

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