The Ecuadorian government has lifted restrictions on WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world, allowing visitors to his embassy hideout and restoring internet access it cut off in March.
It was reported on Sunday that Ecuador moved to restore Assange’s access to the Internet, cell phone communications and permitted him to receive visitors other than his legal team.
WikiLeaks confirmed that Ecuador lifted the restrictions it had imposed on Assange in March. Back then, Ecuador cited a written agreement that allegedly prohibited Assange from sending messages that would interfere in the affairs of other countries. WikiLeaks denied such an agreement existed.
“It is positive that through UN intervention Ecuador has partly ended the isolation of Mr Assange although it is of grave concern that his freedom to express his opinions is still limited,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief said in a statement.
He added that Assange was made aware of the decision “hours after” UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi and UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression David Kaye met with Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno. During his visit to Ecuador, Kaye praised Moreno for promoting the freedom of speech and for his protection of whistleblowers. At the time, Assange was still gagged at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The news of Assange’s communications being restored was first reported by the Press Association citing sources. The Ecuadorian government is yet to make an official comment.
Assange has been confined to the embassy since 2012 after being granted political asylum by then Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. The whistleblower fears if he leaves the building he will be seized by the British authorities and handed over to the US for trial over leaking troves of secret CIA documents, which exposed its tools for hacking and surveillance, as well as other confidential papers.
Assange was granted Ecuadorian citizenship in 2017, meaning that he could not be handed over to the UK unless he is stripped of his citizenship. However, the fate of one of the world’s most famous fugitives has been balancing on the edge of a cliff since Moreno came to power in May last year. Moreno called Assange an “inherited problem” and “more than a nuisance.” It was reported in July that Ecuador was in talks with the UK to expel Assange from the embassy, and that his extradition was all but “imminent.”
Moreno later confirmed that Ecuador discussed the terms under which Assange could leave the embassy with the British government, but stressed that any such agreement must include a guarantee that London would not hand over the whistleblower to the US.
“If the British government guarantees us that he will not run the risk of being extradited to another country, we will ask Mr. Assange (to leave); we will talk first with his attorneys,” Moreno said in August.