Lenín Moreno, the president of Ecuador, has said Julian Assange’s asylum status in the country’s London embassy is not under threat – provided he complies with the conditions of his stay and avoids voicing his political opinions on Twitter.
However, in an interview with Deutsche Welle on Wednesday, Moreno said his government would “take a decision” if Assange didn’t comply with the restrictions.
“Let’s not forget the conditions of his asylum prevent him from speaking about politics or intervening in the politics of other countries. That’s why we cut his communication,” he said. Ecuador suspended Assange’s communication’s system in March.
Moreno’s statements come two weeks after an investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador revealed the country had bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Assange, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police.
Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected him while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin.
Earlier this month, Moreno withdrew additional security assigned to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where the WikiLeaks founder has remained for almost six years.
Moreno has previously described Assange’s situation as “a stone in his shoe” and repeatedly hinted that he wants to remove the Australian from the country’s London embassy.
In an interview in Quito, the president said granting Assange Ecuadorian citizenship in December last year had not been his idea but that of the foreign minister María Fernanda Espinosa. He had delegated all decisions related to the case to her, Moreno told Deutsche Welle.
“I told the foreign minister she should, with complete freedom, choose how to solve the problem. And she chose that system. It wasn’t the most suitable, but I respected it,” he said.
He denied that external pressure from the United States or any other countries had influenced his government’s treatment of Assange whom he said had “surpassed the limits of freedom of expression”.
Assange had tweeted in support of the Catalan independence movement and challenged the UK’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of a Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
“Liberty must be used with a lot of responsibility,” Moreno said, without confirming whether or not Assange’s access to the internet would be restored.
Rafael Correa, Moreno’s predecessor who approved of the operation, defended the security measures as “routine and modest.”