Ecuador partly restores internet access for WikiLeaks founder Assange

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(Reuters) – Ecuador has restored partial internet access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who took refuge in the country’s London Embassy more than six years ago, WikiLeaks and an Assange lawyer said separately on Sunday.

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

The move comes nearly six months after the Ecuadorean government suspended Assange’s communications in March, after he discussed issues on social media that could damage the country’s diplomatic relations, including a diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow as well as Catalonian separatism.

“Ecuador rolls back @JulianAssange isolation,” WikiLeaks said in a message on Twitter. The change was also confirmed by Assange’s Australian legal adviser, Greg Barns, who called it “a welcome development.”

An Assange spokesman said his communications have been only partially restored.

Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s London Embassy after British courts ordered his extradition to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual molestation case. That case has since been dropped. But friends and supporters say Assange now fears he could be arrested and eventually 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.

“The main issue, the requirement for the UK to give an undertaking that Julian would not be extradited to the U.S., remains unresolved,” Barns told Reuters.

Friends and supporters of Assange say he has had contact only with lawyers since Ecuador suspended his communications with the outside world. WikiLeaks recently announced that one of Assange’s longtime associates, Kristin Hrafnsson, had taken over from him as WikiLeaks editor in chief. 

As a 2016 presidential candidate, President Donald Trump praised WikiLeaks for publishing hacked emails that embarrassed his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

But Trump administration officials have condemned Assange, while a federal grand jury continues a long-running criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and its personnel, a U.S. official recently confirmed. 

Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Michael Holden; Writing by David Morgan; Editing by Sandra Maler

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