Protests at Ecuador embassy amid claim US will seize Assange belongings

Protesters have gathered outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London amid claims US officials will seize Julian Assange’s belongings.

A small crowd chanted in support of the WikiLeaks founder, 47, and one former diplomat described Ecuador’s treatment of Assange as “shameful”.

The whistleblower was dramatically dragged from the embassy, in Knightsbridge, in April and sentenced to 50 weeks in Belmarsh Prison for a bail breach.

WikiLeaks claims his belongings, including legal papers, medical records and electronic equipment, will be handed to US prosecutors, who are seeking his extradition, on Monday.

Speaking outside the embassy, former consul Fidel Narvaez said he considered Assange “my friend” who was “very respectful” and had a “good relationship” with embassy staff.

“I feel ashamed of the way the Ecuadorian government is dealing with Julian’s case, the way they evicted him, allowing foreign forces to go into the embassy and to drag a political refugee out by force,” said Mr Narvaez, who worked in the building between 2010 and 2018.

He claimed ongoing “co-operation” between Ecuador and the US had seen Ecuadorian diplomats interviewed by US prosecutors and the handing over of Assange’s possessions would be “immoral”.

Julian Assange
Julian Assange

Swedish prosecutors have reopened an investigation into rape allegations against Assange, which he denies, and requested Uppsala District Court detains him in his absence.

Deputy director of public prosecution Eva-Marie Persson said if the court decides to detain Assange, she “will issue a European Arrest Warrant concerning surrender to Sweden”.

“In the event of a conflict between a European Arrest Warrant and a request for extradition from the US, UK authorities will decide on the order of priority,” she said.

Assange sought political asylum in the embassy in 2012 after the leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables on his whistleblowing website.

The drastic move came after he exhausted all legal options in fighting extradition to Sweden over two separate claims – one of rape and one of molestation.

Some protesters at the embassy on Monday chanted “thieves, shame on you” and fixed banners with the message “Free Assange” to railings outside.

Carolina Graterol, 52, a Venezuelan journalist, said Assange’s case set a “very dangerous precedent to a free press and the right we have to know the truth”.

She claimed any seizure of his belongings was “totally illegal” and “a breach of his privacy”.

“Obviously the US is looking for evidence to incriminate him in a future case,” she added.

A group of photographers and camera crews from international media organisations also gathered at the embassy.

WikiLeaks said United Nations officials and Assange’s lawyers were not being allowed to be present for the removal of his belongings, which is said to include two of his manuscripts.

Baltasar Garzon, international legal co-ordinator for the defence of Assange and WikiLeaks, said: “It is extremely worrying that Ecuador has proceeded with the search and seizure of property, documents, information and other material belonging to the defence of Julian Assange, which Ecuador arbitrarily confiscated, so that these can be handed over to the the agent of political persecution against him, the United States.”