FILE PHOTO: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo
QUITO (Reuters) – Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said on Monday that Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum in its London embassy and hand him over to the United States, citing a new set of rules governing his residence at the Andean nation’s diplomatic mission as evidence.
Assange spoke from the embassy via teleconference at the first hearing of a lawsuit in Quito that was initiated by his legal team against the Ecuadorean government. The lawsuit challenges the new rules, which require him to pay for medical bills, phone calls and clean up after his pet cat.
During the hearing, Assange said the new rules were a sign Ecuador was trying to push him out, and said Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had already decided to end his asylum but had not yet officially given the order.
His comments prompted the South American country’s top government attorney, Iñigo Salvador, to interrupt him and warn him not to make political statements during the proceedings.
Court officials told journalists they could not record any of the statements made during the hearing.
Salvador did not directly respond to Assange’s allegations, but he had told reporters last week Assange was welcome to stay in the embassy with the new rules. He also said the United Kingdom in August had assured Assange would not be extradited if he left the embassy, where he has lived since 2012.
Assange took refuge in the embassy after British courts ordered his extradition to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual assault case. That case has been dropped, but supporters have said that Assange fears he could be extradited to the United States if he leaves the embassy.
WikiLeaks, which published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation, faces a U.S. grand jury investigation.
In a departure from its previous practice of maintaining dialogue with British authorities over Assange’s situation, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister José Valencia told Reuters last week that the government would no longer intervene on Assange’s behalf, adding that the government was “frustrated” by the lawsuit.
Reporting by Alexandria Valencia; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker