As Ecuador struggles to rid itself of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has become just one more annoyance for the administration of new Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, the country's diplomatic service is taking another step that will help it pressure Assange into hopefully leaving its embassy in London, where he has been holed up for more than 5 years.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Ecuador does not plan to intervene with the British government on Assange's behalf in talks over his situation as an asylee in the country's embassy, according to the country's foreign minister. During an interview with Reuters, Foreign Minister José Valencia said that Ecuador's sole responsibility regarding Assange was securing his well-being.
Valencia said he was "frustrated" by Assange's decision to sue the Ecuadorian government in one of the country's court last week over new terms of his asylum.
"There is no obligation in international agreements for Ecuador to pay for things like Mr. Assange's laundry," he said.
This is a departure from Ecuador's previous practice of maintaining a dialogue with British authorities over Assange's situation since granting him asylum in 2012. Now, for the first time since Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012, Ecuador will do nothing to help keep the British government at bay - something that is even more important after Assange lost a crucial court appeal regarding the charges of skipping bail that he is currently hiding from. the original sex crime charges brought by Swedish prosecutors were dropped back in 2017.
Ecuaor's decision is clearly a retaliation for the Australian national's decision to sue Ecuador over strict new "conditions" placed on his continued asylum in the London embassy, including demands that he clean his own bathroom, pay his own expenses (including medical and telephone bills), and clean up after his cat (under threat that the pet could be confiscated). Assange is also prohibited from engaging in political activities that could be construed as interfering in the affairs of other states.
"Ecuador has no responsibility to take any further steps," Valencia said. "We are not Mr. Assange's lawyers, nor are we representatives of the British government. This is a matter to be resolved between Assange and Great Britain."
Greg Barns, an Australian lawyer advising Assange, said that "developments in the case in recent times" demonstrated the need for Australia's government to intervene to assist "one of its citizens who faces real danger."
In addition to the new rules by which Assange must abide, Ecuador has also attempted to intimidate potential visitors to Assange by enforcing new "special protocols."
What's the special protocol?
Lawyers for Mr Assange claim the protocol:
Requires journalists, Mr Assange's lawyers and anyone else looking to see him to disclose private or political details - such as the serial numbers and codes of their phones and tablets
The protocol says the government may "share" the information "with other agencies"
Allows the embassy to seize the property of Mr Assange or his visitors and, without a warrant, hand it over to UK authorities.
WikiLeaks said that US congressmen had written an open letter to Ecuador's president, Lenin Moreno, about the situation.
It claims the document said that in order to advance crucial matters - such as economic co-operation, counternarcotics assistance and the possible return of a USAID mission to Ecuador - they must first resolve a "significant challenge" - the status of Mr Assange.
While Moreno has expressed respect for Assange, he has also noted that asylum isn't supposed to last "forever." After naming Assange a citizen in December 2017, the country tried to name him a member of its diplomatic mission - a request the UK denied. While the UK hasn't offered a clear explanation for why it refuses to drop its pursuit of Assange, the former hacker says he fears being arrested by UK authorities and extradited to the US, where he would face charges for his work with Wikileaks, including the publication of sensitive government secrets.