The UK government may have stopped its 24/7 surveillance of the Ecuadorian embassy where Julian Assange is seeking refuge, but it is still determined to arrest him the moment he sets foot outside.
Ecuador says that its request for the WikiLeaks editor to be granted safe passage to go to hospital for a check-up has been denied, The Guardian reports.
Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy since 2012. He sought political asylum there after Swedish authorities attempted to have him extradited over rape allegations. Assange says he fears the investigation is politically motivated, and he says that it could mean that he will be extradited to the United States to face trial for his work with WikiLeaks.
Confinement to the Knightsbridge building has reportedly left Assange suffering from a number of health conditions, including a chronic cough, Vitamin D deficiency, and a heart condition, according to The Telegraph.
Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño says his government has sought to arrange safe passage to a hospital in London for Assange to have an MRI scan regarding shoulder pain, but said that British authorities will not provide any guarantees. “The reply we have had from Britain is that he can leave whenever he likes for any medical care he might need but the European arrest warrant for Assange is still valid. In other words, he can leave — and we will put him in jail,” he said.
In a press release, WikiLeaks says that Assange is “in constant and severe pain, which is growing worse and has been present since June 2015.” It continues: “The cause is unknown. There was no fall or injury. The source of the medical condition can only be diagnosed with hospital equipment that cannot be brought into the embassy due to size and weight.”
The Foreign Office told The Guardian that “there is no question that the British authorities would in any way seek to impede Mr Assange receiving medical advice or care.” But the issue of the arrest warrant facing Assange if he leaves the embassy is “a matter for the police.”
Assange’s lawyer has slammed the UK government’s position. “By claiming that Mr. Assange must give up his asylum in order to receive medical treatment, the UK government is forcing him to choose between the human right to asylum and the human right to medical treatment. No one should ever have to face that choice,” sid Carey Shenkman. “Sweden and the United Kingdom have the responsibility to ensure that Assange’s basic rights are respected. They should agree without further delay to permit Mr. Assange’s safe passage to a hospital on humanitarian grounds.”
Earlier this week, the London Metropolitan Police ended its round-the-clock watch of the Ecuadorian Embassy, saying it is “no longer proportionate to commit officers to a permanent presence.” (But he still faces arrest if he leaves.) The stake-out has cost more than £11 million since it began in 2012.