Ecuador has confirmed that it has temporarily cut off internet access in its embassy in London to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, over fears that he was using it to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.
The move followed the publication of leaked emails by the whistleblower site including some from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and more recently a cache of emails from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign adviser John Podesta.
In July, Wikileaks released approximately 20,000 emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign team just two days before the Democratic Convention.
Assange’s internet access was cut off on Monday morning. While it was not immediately clear who was responsible, a tweet from Wikileaks official account claimed it had been ‘intentionally severed’ by a ‘state party’.
Julian Assange's internet link has been intentionally severed by a state party. We have activated the appropriate contingency plans.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 17, 2016
But on Tuesday, officials released a statement saying that the government of Ecuador ‘respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states’ and had cut off the internet access available to Assange because ‘in recent weeks, WikiLeaks has published a wealth of documents, impacting on the US election campaign’.
The foreign ministry confirmed that while it stands by its 2012 decision to grant Assange asylum based on legitimate concerns he faces political persecution, it doesn’t interfere with foreign elections.
— Foreign Affairs Ec (@MFAEcuador) October 18, 2016
The statement also reaffirmed its intention ‘to safeguard his life and physical integrity until he reaches a safe place’.
Assange has been living in the Ecuador embassy in London since 2012 after claiming asylum following sexual assault allegations made by two women relating to his visit to Sweden in 2010.
He denied the allegations, expressing concern that he would be extradited from Sweden to the United States due to his perceived role in publishing secret American documents. He has since remained in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, and is unable to leave without being arrested for breaching his bail conditions.
While it is not known who perpetrated the hacks that brought the emails to WikiLeaks, Assange’s company styles itself as a whistleblowing site and claims not to do or encourage any hacking itself.
But cybersecurity experts have linked the hack of the DNC emails to hackers tied to the Russian government, The Guardian reports. This has led many – including Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook – to allege that Russia is using both hackers and Assange to help rig the presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.