The UK Foreign Office has rejected an appeal from Ecuador requesting diplomatic status be granted to WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange, who has lived in the country's London embassy for years.
Reports swirled this week that Assange had been given citizenship by Ecuador, the nation that granted him political asylum back in 2012 amid accusations of sexual misconduct. The WikiLeaks chief believes that the US government is seeking his extradition and prosecution.
While Swedish officials dropped their investigation into a rape claim involving Assange, the UK has repeatedly said that he would be arrested by police for breaking a prior bail condition should he step outside the embassy.
In a statement on Wednesday (10 January), an FCO spokesperson noted the recent rumours, saying: "The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK.
"The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter. Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice."
The same day, it emerged that Ecuador had been looking for an international mediator to help put an end to the standoff centred around the 46-year-old leaker, who is an Australian citizen.
Reuters reported it had found an entry for "Julian Paul Assange" in Ecuador's civilian registry. Later, the WikiLeaks founder tweeted an image of himself wearing Ecuador's national football team shirt.
Referencing a 2016 UN ruling that said Assange was being "arbitrarily detained", WikiLeaks responded: "The UN ruling, issued almost two years ago, is crystal clear in its language. Mr Assange is unlawfully and arbitrarily detained by the UK authorities and must be released."
In a separate update, the verified WikiLeaks Twitter account said Wednesday that its founder had "already served more than 14x the max under UK sentencing (house arrest = 50% time)."
The US government has stepped up its anti-WikiLeaks rhetoric in recent months.
US attorney general Jeff Sessions has said Assange's arrest is now a "priority". Meanwhile, CIA director Mike Pompeo launched into attack mode, branding Assange "a coward behind a screen". In December last year, the Freedom of the Press Foundation severed ties with the website.
WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party in 2016, leading to the suggestion from the US government that it was in cahoots with Russia, a claim Assange denies.