Ecuador has agreed to grant Julian Assange asylum. The WikiLeaks founder has been at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since June 19, trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he has been accused of having sexually assaulted two women. British, American, and Swedish officials declined to give guarantees that he would not be sent to the United States, where he could face the death penalty—refusals that prompted Ecuador’s offer of asylum. However, even with the offer, Assange is still in legal trouble. British police are prepared to arrest him if he attempts to travel to Ecuador, which means at the very least he will remain at the diplomatic compound, where he sleeps on an air mattress in a small office and cannot go outside. But his stay at the embassy may be shorter than he thinks. Even ahead of Ecuador’s decision, British officials warned that they might suspend the embassy’s immunity in order to arrest Assange.
In 2012, blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng fled to the U.S. embassy in Beijing after escaping house arrest in his village in Shandong Province. Though a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called it “totally unacceptable,” Chen was welcomed into the embassy, where he remained for several days. He left on May 2 after official assurances of improved treatment and was taken to a Beijing hospital, where he was reunited with his family. But by the next day Chen had second thoughts. “Things haven’t changed; I still want to leave China,” he told The Daily Beast, even saying that he hoped “to leave for the U.S. on Hillary Clinton’s plane.” The crisis was eventually resolved: on May 19, Chen and his family left for the U.S., where he had received a fellowship to study at New York University.
The United States launched the invasion of Panama on Dec. 20, 1989, in order to oust Manuel Noriega, the military commander who had been governing Panama since 1983. Days later, Noriega fled to the Vatican embassy in Panama City. Unable to physically retrieve him, the U.S. military fought back by blasting rock music at the building nonstop. Noriega surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990, and was transported to Miami, where he was convicted of cocaine trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering.
In 1989, Fang Lizhi wrote an open letter to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping demanding the release of political prisoners. Fang had been a loyal Communist Party member up until that point, but his letter helped spark the pro-democracy student movement that eventually led to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Fang sought refuge along with his family at the U.S. embassy and President George H.W. Bush agreed to grant him asylum. Fang and his family remained there for nearly a year until June 1990, when Chinese officials allowed the family to leave the country. Fang became a professor at the University of Arizona, where he taught until his death in 2012.
It’s not every day that the only daughter of a dictator seeks asylum at a foreign embassy, but that’s just what happened when Svetlana Alliluyeva sought asylum at a U.S. embassy in 1967. The only daughter of Joseph Stalin, Alliluyeva went to India in 1966 to spread the ashes of her late lover. But rather than return to the Soviet Union, she sought asylum at the U.S. embassy. There, she denounced communism and called her father “a moral and spiritual monster.” However, her stay at the embassy was very brief as the Indian government feared repercussions from the Soviets, so she left India for Rome and then moved on to Geneva. After six weeks in Switzerland, she went to the U.S. In the 1980s, she briefly reversed course by renouncing the U.S. and returning to the Soviet Union, but later changed her mind and left again.
Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty of Hungary was convicted on charges of treason in 1949 after refusing to secularize the country’s Roman Catholic schools. The communist government sentenced him to life in prison, but he was released during the 1956 uprising. However, when the communists regained control, Mindszenty sought asylum at the U.S. embassy in Budapest. He remained there for the next 15 years, until he finally agreed to leave the country as a guest of the Vatican. When he died, he was buried in Austria, but he was reburied in Hungary after the demise of the communist regime.
Victor Raul Haya de la Torre
Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, who was the leader of Peru’s Popular Revolutionary American party, fled to the Colombian embassy in Lima in 1949 after his party was outlawed. At the time, no international law existed regarding countries granting diplomatic asylum and the case between Colombia and Peru went before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Haya de la Torre remained at the Colombian embassy until 1954, when he was allowed to go to Mexico. He was finally able to return to Peru in 1957.
In his first public appearance in months, Julian Assange spoke from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, asking the U.S. to end its 'witch hunt' against WikiLeaks.
As Julian Assange holes up in London, a look at other who’ve had to seek refuge at a diplomatic compound.