LONDON -- Holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in a bid for political asylum, Julian Assange now faces arrest if he steps outside it, Scotland Yard said Wednesday.
By spending the night inside the embassy, the WikiLeaks founder broke the bail conditions under which he has lived in Britain since he was arrested here in December 2010 at the request of Swedish authorities, police said.
Those conditions demanded that the 40-year-old Australian abide by a nightly curfew at a designated address. Assange "is now subject to arrest ... for breach of these conditions," a statement from Scotland Yard said.
Assange entered the embassy Tuesday to request asylum, opening a bizarre new chapter in his long-running attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault. His legal appeals against being shipped to Stockholm have been nearly exhausted; earlier this month, the British Supreme Court ruled that extradition could go ahead.
Assange contends that extradition to Sweden would merely be cover for his eventual removal to the United States, where he says he would be tried and sentenced to death because of his whistle-blowing website's leak of thousands of classified State Department cables.
Ecuadorean officials say they are considering Assange's asylum petition. As long as he remains inside the embassy in London, the controversial freedom-of-information activist is "beyond the reach of the police," Britain’s Foreign Office said. By convention, embassies are considered diplomatic territory and are generally off-limits to regular authorities.
[Updated, 10:10 a.m. June 20: Anna Alban, the Ecuadorean ambassador, said in a statement Wednesday that her country's consideration of Assange's application would "take into account Ecuador's long and well-established tradition in supporting human rights." She said she told British officials "that it was not the intention of the Ecuadorean government to interfere with the processes of either the UK or Swedish governments."]
Assange apparently chose Ecuador at least in part because he has developed some sort of a rapport with its leader, President Rafael Correa. Assange recently interviewed Correa on the talk show he hosts on the Kremlin-backed television channel Russia Today, an exchange in which the two men joked about American arrogance.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: The Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is holed up. Credit: Carl Court / AFP/Getty Images