Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gathered outside his current residence — Ecuador's London embassy — on Friday, in response to reports that he would be kicked out within "hours to days." The rumors were fueled by the added presence of British law enforcement, who sit at the ready to take him into custody.
What are the details?
The furor began after WikiLeaks tweeted Thursday that "a high level source within the Ecuadorian state" informed the site its exiled chief would "be expelled within 'hours to days.'" The unnamed source also alleged that Ecuador "already has an agreement with the U.K. for [Assange's] arrest."
Just a day before, WikiLeaks said Fidel Narvaez — Ecuador's former consul to London — informed them that "the government seeks a false pretext to end the asylum and protection of Julian Assange," and that President Lenin Moreno was "using the #INApapers as a pretext to 'yield to U.S. pressure.'"
The "#INApapers" refer to documents leaked in February, which exposed an alleged offshore tax haven — the INA Investment Corp. — created by Moreno's brother. The leak led to a congressional corruption probe of the Moreno family for money laundering, Agence France-Presse reported. Ecuador has blamed WikiLeaks for the document dump unveiling the scandal.
Supporters of Assange have long feared that if he ends up in British custody, he'll be extradited to the U.S. and prosecuted for exposing troves of leaked classified information.
The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in the embassy since 2012, originally to avoid extradition to Sweden for sexual assault allegations — but according to AFP, "the Swedish chief prosecutor dropped proceedings against him in 2017 because ... serving notice of charges would necessitate Assange's presence in court."
Ecuadorian leadership has been all over the place in responding to the speculation. On Wednesday, President Moreno stopped short of saying whether his country would withdraw asylum, but said, "Assange has too often repeatedly violated the agreement we have with him and his legal team."
Moreno added, "It is not that he cannot speak freely, it is not that he cannot express himself freely, but he cannot lie, let alone hack into accounts or intercept private phone calls," while under asylum.
The Guardian reported that Ecuador's foreign ministry later released a statement saying it "doesn't comment on rumors, theories or conjectures that don't have any documented backing," but a senior official confirmed no decision had been made.
Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Jose Valencia deleted three tweets he sent out Friday morning regarding the Assange situation. According to the U.K.'s Express, Valencia said he considered the new rumors to be insulting, "insisting that Ecuador is free to grant or withdraw asylum at any time."
The Daily Mail reported that supporters of Assange responded to calls on Twitter to "fill the streets" outside the embassy to protect the WikiLeaks founder in case he emerges. Protesters gathered to join steadfast Assange loyalists who set up makeshift camps outside the building.
Meanwhile, British police stationed armed officers on watch, confirming to The Associated Press in a statement that there is an active warrant for Assange's arrest, and law enforcement is "obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy."