Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum from Ecuador, less than a week after Britain's Supreme Court ruled he could be extradited to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault, Ecuadorean officials said Tuesday.
Ecuador's foreign ministry said that Assange had turned up at its London Embassy, lamenting that his own country, Australia, had abandoned him, and argued that he was being politically persecuted by Sweden in collusion with the United States. The ministry said it would weigh his request.
Seeking help from Ecuador is the latest twist in the lengthy international saga for Assange, idolized by Internet activists and reviled by governments for airing official secrets on his Wikileaks website. A Swedish prosecutor first sought Assange for questioning nearly two years ago, after two women accused him of sexual assault during a Swedish lecture tour.
Assange traveled to Britain, where he has fought a lengthy legal battle against being sent to Sweden, arguing that the allegations were a politically motivated ploy to set the stage for his prosecution in the United States.
In his bid for asylum in Ecuador, Assange argued he could face the death penalty for "political crimes" in the United States, where he claims he has been secretly indicted.
The Wikileaks website has angered the Obama administration and other governments by releasing secret Pentagon documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with a vast trove of State Department cables. The former U.S. Army analyst suspected of leaking information to the site, Bradley Manning, is in custody and could face life in prison if convicted of charges such as aiding the enemy.
Ecuador has an intriguing tie to the Wikileaks debate: Last year, the country expelled U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges after leaked diplomatic cables showed she had suspected President Rafael Correa of looking the other way at police corruption.
Ecuador also flirted with giving Assange residency two years ago, when its deputy foreign minister reportedly said he was worried by alleged U.S. activities revealed by Wikileaks and wanted to offer a haven for Assange to speak out. President Correa quickly said he had not approved the offer.
The Internet hacking and protest group Anonymous called for supporters to flood Ecuador's embassy with letters backing Assange.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, speaks during a news conference in Quito on Tuesday. Credit: Cancilleria / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images