Ecuador Says UK Has Cleared the Way for Assange to Leave Embassy, a Move That Could Affect U.S. Case

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been residing at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, but his extended stay may be coming to an end. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said in a radio interview Thursday that the government of the United Kingdom has satisfied concerns that would otherwise prevent Ecuador from releasing him, the Associated Press reported.

Moreno said his administration was assured that if Assange is let out of the embassy, and thus falls back under the UK’s jurisdiction, he would not be extradited to any country where he would face a death penalty. Known allegations against Assange include rape in Sweden, which does not carry a death penalty, but the United States could theoretically execute him for espionage.

Speculation has been rampant that Assange may have been charged under seal in the United States, especially after an error in a court filing indicated that federal prosecutors were at least thinking about bringing a case against the WikiLeaks founder, if they haven’t already. Assange has published troves of sensitive material, going back to military documents obtained by Chelsea Manning in 2010. Transmitting defense information to be used for injuring the United States can be punishable by death.

The latest development means that if federal prosecutors do choose to go after Assange, they would have to assure the UK that they would not pursue the death penalty. Similarly, Sweden has recently said that they would not extradite Assange to the United States if the death penalty was on the table.

In the past, the U.S. Department of Justice has expressed concern over their ability to bring any kind of case against Assange. If he could be charged for disseminating classified information, even if it was illegally obtained, it could be challenged under the same theory that allows journalists to do the same thing.

In the meantime, Moreno has not said whether Ecuador will make Assange leave the embassy just yet.

[Image via Jack Taylor/Getty Images]

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