The Ecuadorian government has confirmed officials are searching through Julian Assange’s belongings left at its embassy in London following a request from the United States.
Protesters gathered outside the embassy in Knightsbridge on Monday morning after WikiLeaks claimed its founder’s possessions would be handed to US prosecutors who are seeking his extradition.
Assange, 47, was dramatically dragged out of the embassy building in April and sentenced to 50 weeks in Belmarsh Prison for a bail breach.
In a statement published online, the Ecuadorian government said the search was to identify and confiscate belongings of Assange that could offer clues to possible criminal activity.
The search is being carried out under the authorisation of a judge and following a request for judicial assistance from the US, the statement said.
If officials do decide to confiscate any of the whistleblower’s belongings these will be sent to Ecuador for analysis and then possibly passed on to those seeking judicial assistance.
Wikileaks claimed material such as legal papers, medical records and electronic equipment will be handed to US prosecutors.
One former diplomat joining the small crowd of protestors outside the embassy labelled Ecuador’s treatment of Assange as “shameful”.
Former consul Fidel Narvaez, who worked in the building between 2010 and 2018, said he considered Assange “my friend” who was “very respectful” and had a “good relationship” with embassy staff.
“I feel ashamed of the way the Ecuadorian government is dealing with Julian’s case, the way they evicted him, allowing foreign forces to go into the embassy and to drag a political refugee out by force,” said Mr Narvaez.
He claimed ongoing “co-operation” between Ecuador and the US had seen Ecuadorian diplomats interviewed by US prosecutors and the handing over of Assange’s possessions would be “immoral”.
An investigation into rape allegations against Assange, which he denies, has been reopened by Swedish prosecutors who have requested Uppsala District Court detains him in his absence.
Deputy director of public prosecution Eva-Marie Persson said if the court decides to detain Assange, she “will issue a European Arrest Warrant concerning surrender to Sweden”.
“In the event of a conflict between a European Arrest Warrant and a request for extradition from the US, UK authorities will decide on the order of priority,” she said.
Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 after the leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables on his whistleblowing website.
He took refuge inside after exhausting all legal options in fighting extradition to Sweden over two separate claims, one of rape and one of molestation.
Some protesters at the embassy on Monday chanted “thieves, shame on you” and fixed banners with the message Free Assange to railings outside.
Carolina Graterol, 52, a Venezuelan journalist, said Assange’s case set a “very dangerous precedent to a free press and the right we have to know the truth”.
She claimed any seizure of his belongings was “totally illegal” and “a breach of his privacy”.
“Obviously the US is looking for evidence to incriminate him in a future case,” she added.
Media crews spent the day waiting for signs of material being removed from the embassy, while police were also present at the protest outside.
WikiLeaks said United Nations officials and Assange’s lawyers were not being allowed to be present for the removal of his belongings, which is said to include two of his manuscripts.
Baltasar Garzon, international legal co-ordinator for the defence of Assange and WikiLeaks, said: “It is extremely worrying that Ecuador has proceeded with the search and seizure of property, documents, information and other material belonging to the defence of Julian Assange, which Ecuador arbitrarily confiscated, so that these can be handed over to the the agent of political persecution against him, the United States.”
In its statement the Ecuadorian government said Assange’s lawyers had been notified of the search which was being conducted in accordance with international legal treaties.
Unconfiscated belongings will be made available to Assange’s representatives, the statement added.