Ecuador will protect Assange "as long as necessary"

Ecuador has guaranteed political asylum to Julian Assange for ”as long as necessary”, a vow that comes a day after a Swedish court upheld an arrest warrant for the Wikileaks founder.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuador embassy in London for two years to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes. British police stand guard outside the embassy at all times, ready to arrest Assange if he steps foot on British soil.

The announcement from Ecuador comes after Assange lost his claim that the detention order be annulled, AFP reports.

“The asylum granted to Julian Assange is valid and reaffirms its intention to continue protecting him as long as necessary, until he is in a safe place," Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Assange fears extradition to Sweden could lead to him being transferred to the United States to face trial over Wikileaks’ publication of classified US military and diplomatic documents.

In 2010, the whistleblower group began publishing 250,000 American diplomatic cables and 500,000 classified military reports, covering both American diplomacy and the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange is not formally suspected of any crime in the United States but the outgoing attorney general, Eric Holder, has said there is a criminal investigation “into the matter”. Swedish authorities have not been able to guarantee that Assange will avoid being handed over to the United States, but former minister for foreign affairs, Carl Bildt, has vowed that Sweden does not extradite individuals to countries where they risk facing the death penalty.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about accusations of rape and sexual molestation brought against him by two women in their thirties when he visited Sweden in 2010. He denies the claims and has called on Swedish prosecutors to travel to London to question him there or, alternatively, to do so by video link. The Swedish appeal court rejected the demand.

"Ecuador maintains its proposal for Swedish officials to question Julian Assange in its embassy in London or use videoconferencing means," Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated.