Ecuador grants citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Assange

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted Ecuadorian citizenship, Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said on Thursday.

Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa speaks during a press conference in Quito, capital of Ecuador, on Jan. 11, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Assange, who has been holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London for five and a half years, "filed for naturalization on Sept. 16, 2017," and met the all the requisites, Espinosa told reporters at a press conference here.

Assange was eligible to become a naturalized Ecuadorian citizen based on his time under the jurisdiction and protection of Ecuador, said Espinoza, adding "naturalization was granted on Dec. 12, 2017," by the Ecuadorian government.

On Wednesday, local media reported the Australian-born Assange was now a naturalized Ecuadorean, but the news was not officially confirmed until now.

Ecuador, under then president Rafael Correa, granted Assange political asylum at its embassy in August 2012, after the activist argued he was the target of political persecution.

According to Assange and his legal team, accusations of sexual wrongdoing against him by two Swedish citizens were a ruse to extradite him to Sweden for eventual handover to the United States.

The accusations led Assange to take refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy and file for political asylum. He has been trapped there ever since.

After three years in virtual captivity, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention announced in 2015 that Assange's de facto imprisonment was unlawful. It called for his immediate release and ruled both Sweden and Britain pay compensation for having illegally detained him. To date, the ruling has had no effect.

The WikiLeaks website gained fame after it released thousands of confidential diplomatic cables showing U.S. manipulation of foreign governments and video footage of a U.S. military strike on civilians in Iraq, angering Washington.

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