April 2, 2019 / 4:29 PM / 6 months ago

Ecuador's president says Assange breached terms of London embassy asylum

QUITO (Reuters) - President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador told radio stations on Tuesday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has “repeatedly violated” the terms of his asylum in the Andean nation’s London embassy, where he has lived for nearly seven years.

FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Moreno, interviewed by the Ecuadorean Radio Broadcasters’ Association, said Assange does not have the right to “hack private accounts or phones” and cannot intervene in the politics of other countries, especially those that have friendly relations with Ecuador.

Attorneys for Assange did not respond to requests for comment.

Moreno made the comments on Assange after private photographs of him and his family at a time years ago when they were living in Europe circulated on social media. Although Moreno stopped short of explicitly blaming Assange for the leak, the government said it believed the photos were shared by WikiLeaks.

“Mr. Assange has violated the agreement we reached with him and his legal counsel too many times,” Moreno said in the interview in the city of Guayaquil. “It is not that he cannot speak and express himself freely, but he cannot lie, nor much less hack private accounts or phones.”

Moreno did not say whether or not the government would take steps to remove Assange from the embassy.

WikiLeaks said in an emailed statement that Moreno’s remarks were in retribution for WikiLeaks having reported on corruption accusations against Moreno, who denies wrongdoing.

“If President Moreno wants to illegally terminate a refugee publisher’s asylum to cover up an offshore corruption scandal, history will not be kind,” WikiLeaks said.

Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation.

That probe was later dropped, but Assange fears he could be extradited to face charges in the United States, where federal prosecutors are investigating WikiLeaks.

Ecuador last year established new rules for Assange’s behavior while in the embassy, which required him to pay his medical bills and clean up after his pet cat. He challenged the rules in local and international tribunals, arguing they violated his human rights. Both courts ruled against him.

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is linked to the Organization of American States, rejected Assange’s request that Ecuador ease the conditions it has imposed on his residence in the London embassy.

Assange says Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and is putting pressure on him by isolating him from visitors and spying on him. Ecuador has said its treatment of Assange was in line with international law, but that his situation “cannot be extended indefinitely.”

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; editing by Grant McCool

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