Assange case raises questions of immunity

The Foreign Office’s warning to the Ecuadorian government of an obscure law that allows Britain to revoke the immunity of a diplomatic premises and arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has raised questions by envoys of whether this would be permissible under international law.

The law Britain has informed Ecuador it could use in the case is the Diplomatic and Conuslar Premises Act 1987.

Passed after the heated aftermath of the Libyan Embassy siege, in which a British police officer was killed, the law allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of an embassy on UK soil. This could potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Mr Assange for breaching his bail conditions.

However diplomats and lawyers question whether this course of action would be legal under the Vienna Conventions. Speaking to the BBC, former UK Ambassador to Russia Sir Anthony Brenton said the Embassy would have to be involved in serious undiplomatic activities, such as terrorism, but granting asylum to an individual would not fall into that category. He added that the “arbitrary” revocation of diplomatic immunity of a premises should be done with extreme caution because it risked undermining the diplomatic immunity of British diplomats working in difficult postings.

The Wikileaks founder faces extradition to Sweden to be questioned over allegations of sex crimes, which he denies.

Mr Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy because he fears he will be extradited from Sweden to the US to face charges over his actions of leaking secret US cables, which could carry the death penalty.