UK police to end 24/7 surveillance of embassy that houses WikiLeaks founder

Embassy of Ecuador in LondonPolice in London will no longer physically monitor the embassy of Ecuador in the British capital, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living for over two years, fighting against extradition to Sweden. Assange was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador in June of 2012, after Swedish authorities charged him with rape. But the Australian-born Assange claims that the charges are part of a plot to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for having leaked hundreds of thousands of documents belonging to the Department of Defense and the Department of State.

Acting on a request from the Swedish government, London’s Metropolitan Police Service, known informally as Scotland Yard, has been patrolling the streets around the embassy 24 hours a day, in order to prevent Assange from being smuggled out of the building by Ecuadorean officials. Standard diplomatic protocol prevents British authorities from entering the embassy, which is technically considered Ecuadorean territory.

On Monday, however, the Metropolitan Police said they would cease their 24/7 patrols around the Ecuadorean embassy, which is located in London’s fashionable Knightsbridge district. According to a police official, constant physical surveillance of the embassy was “no longer proportional” to Assange’s charges, which meant that Scotland Yard would be unable to continue “to commit officers to a permanent presence”. The official said that the decision had been taken after consultation with the British Home Office, and that the reasons for the change in policy were primarily financial. According to reports by the British government, the intensive monitoring of the Ecuadorean embassy has cost the British taxpayer in excess of £11 million, which amounts to nearly $18 million. The resulting strain on policing resources has prompted some British politicians to dismiss Scotland Yard’s operation as a misuse of taxpayer funds.

However, Scotland Yard said it would substitute overt physical surveillance of the Ecuadorean embassy with “a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest” Assange if he tries to leave the building. It did not elaborate on that statement. Last summer, the Swedish government dropped three of the four charges against the WikiLeaks founder. The remaining charge is expected to expire in August 2020.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 October 2015 | Permalink

Comment: Security is a Democratic Imperative

British public opinion was shocked recently by the controversial arrest of Conservative Member of Parliament and Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green, which, critics have charged, amounted to a “Stalinist” act of a police state. Mr. Green was arrested in connection with a series of leaks of immigration-related information from the British Home office. Having failed to uncover the source of the leak, the Home Office contacted London’s Metropolitan Police in early October, with a request for help. The investigation led to Christopher Galley, a junior Home Office official, who in turn led police to the next link in the chain, namely Mr. Green. Early in the afternoon of November 27, the Conservative Parliamentarian was arrested and his offices and residence were searched. Mr. Green was held in police custody for nine hours before being released. Keep reading →