If the British government guarantees that Julian Assange will not be extradited to a third country where he could face the death penalty, Assange should hand himself in to the authorities, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said.
“If the British government guarantees his life, I think it’s in his best interest to hand himself over to the authorities,” Moreno said.
Ecuador said that the UK has given such a guarantee, but Moreno said he needs clarification on the British position.
The British Foreign Office referred a CNN question about such possible guarantees to the Home Office, but the latter said it will not release a statement on the issue Thursday.
Assange, 47, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 while wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden. He has maintained his innocence and said the charges were nothing more than an attempt to extradite him to the United States.
WikiLeaks has been a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of any links between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. WikiLeaks posted thousands of emails stolen from Democrats by Russian agents during the election.
A Justice Department investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks dates to at least 2010, when the site posted thousands of files stolen by the former US Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning.
Last month, an inadvertent court filing in a case unrelated to Assange revealed that he has been charged in secret. Ecuador removed its ambassador to the UK two weeks ago, sparking renewed speculation over Assange’s future at the embassy in London.
Moreno said he would prefer Assange hand himself over because of the cost Ecuador is paying after granting him asylum as well as for his own good.
“More than five years in asylum is not human,” Moreno said in an interview with Carmen Aristegui for CNN en Español.
But he said Ecuador was not about to throw Assange out.
“We will protect Mr. Assange’s rights – this is why we are looking for a solution, but this needs to be an agreed solution,” he said.
Moreno said Assange did not need to fear he would be transferred to a country where he could face the death penalty: “According to the British government, they would never extradite a person to a country where his life is at risk.”
“He will spend a few months in jail, after that, freedom,” Moreno said.
Assange faces a British arrest warrant over violating bail conditions by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012, but Sweden, which originally sought to question him on sexual abuse allegations, has said it is no longer seeking to extradite him.