President Lenin Moreno has removed Ecuador’s ambassador to Great Britain, a move that could signal a change in Julian Assange’s asylum status at the London embassy.
Ambassador Carlos Abad’s tenure as ambassador was terminated by an executive decree signed by Moreno on Wednesday. Abad had served since 2015 and had been an influential figure in neogtiations regarding Assange’s future.
After the announcement, WikiLeaks said Thursday on Twitter, “All diplomats known to Assange have now been terminated to transferred away from the embassy.”
The 47-year-old founder of WikiLeaks moved into the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London in 2012 while wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden. Assange maintained his innocence and claimed the charges were nothing more than an attempt to extradite him to the United States.
Carlos Poveda, a member of Assange’s legal team in Quito, Ecuador, told said he was disappointed with the ambassador’s removal, saying it was “not an isolated incident.”
“Abad was fully aware of all the details regarding Julian Assange’s case, and there was a relationship of trust with him,” he said.
The WikiLeaks lawyer also insisted the situation inside the embassy has continued to sour. “There is a hostile relationship between Assange and the embassy staff in the last few weeks,” Poveda said.
Since Moreno took office, Assange has repeatedly claimed Ecuador has been trying to make life more difficult in a bid to force him to vacate the premises. Ecuador has denied it, with Ecuadorian Attorney General Íñigo Salvador telling reporters last month that his country was “not looking to revoke” Assange’s asylum.
But the decision to oust Abad has fueled speculation that Ecuador is looking to push Assange out the door.
Fidel Narvaez, the former consul at the embassy, said that Abad’s removal should be seen as a bad omen for the WikiLeaks founder and his asylum.
“It seems like Ambassador Abad does not fit in with the strategy that has given up on protecting Julian and that aims to annoy him and make him break (so that) he leaves the embassy on his own,” Narvaez said.
Narvaez considers Assange a friend and was part of the team that processed his asylum request six years ago. He said that career diplomats such as Abad should hold their positions for four or five years, meaning the envoy should have been in his post until sometime around 2020.
“I know Ambassador Abad and I have huge respect for him as a person and as a professional,” Narvaez said. “I’m sure he felt uncomfortable with the government’s hostile strategy toward Assange.”
The former consul said Abad would have opted to resign before handing Assange over to British authorities and that he expects whoever the successor is to be less welcoming to the Australian.
“The government is probably going to appoint someone who is willing to make an embarrassing move like this one,” Narvaez added.
“The case of London has nothing to do with the case of Assange,” Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Jose Valencia said. “We have a relationship with the UK that is handled between the two countries — for example, the fight against corruption. There is more activity in the UK apart from the situation regarding Assange.”
Valencia also reiterated that Ecuador had given Assange multiple options to conclude his endless residency at the diplomatic shelter.
“One is to leave and turn himself over to the British justice, facing the consequences for violating his bail conditions in the UK and the other one is to stay in the embassy but following the protocol rules that try to regulate his cohabitation in a workplace.”
Abad’s ejection from the London embassy comes a week after a bungled court filing revealed the US government’s possible efforts to charge Assange criminally over his work with WikiLeaks.