LONDON – Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa acknowledged that the Ecuadorian Embassy in London â€œtemporarily restrictedâ€ internet access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after the website published â€œa large quantityâ€ of hacked material linked to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
WikiLeaks said Assange lost connectivity on Sunday, sparking speculation Ecuador might have been pressured by the United States due to the groupâ€™s publication of hacked material linked to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
According to an official WikiLeaks tweet: â€œMultiple US sources us John Kerry asked Ecuador to stop Assange from publishing Clinton docs during FARC peace negotiations.â€
BREAKING: Ecuador admits to ‘restricting’ Assange communications over US election.
Fund his defense costs here:https://t.co/Mb6gXlz7QS
â€” WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 18, 2016
Ecuadorâ€™s foreign ministry said in a statement that while the government provided Assange asylum in the countryâ€™s London embassy, it did not condone the release of campaign emails and â€œrespects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairsâ€ of other countries.
â€œThe decision to make this information public is the exclusive responsibility of the WikiLeaks organization,â€ the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Despite its attempts to avoid the political fray, the move placed Ecuador at the center of the historic presidential campaign at a critical juncture and drawing renewed attention to WikiLeaksâ€™ near daily publication of thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee.
With the final presidential debate set for Wednesday night, Republican candidate Donald Trump is expected to try to take advantage of the moment to make up ground in the polls after days of news coverage devoted to whether he groped women in the past.
Republicans have accused the news media of not devoting enough attention to the WikiLeaksâ€™ releases, and Ecuadorâ€™s efforts to silence Assange for now is likely to spark new allegations of coverup.
WikiLeaks has published 11 tranches this month of what are believed to be 55,000 emails siphoned from the Democratic National Committee, including thousands from the account of John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign. The tranches so far amount to less than a third of the emails.
Democratic party officials, the Obama administration and cybersecurity experts have blamed the Russian government for the hack and U.S. officials have said the release of the emails via WikiLeaks is part of a scheme to interfer in the election.
WikiLeaksâ€™ release of 20,000 of the pirated emails on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July forced the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz when they showed her staff had plotted ways to undercut the campaign of Clinton rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.
The decision to make this information public is the exclusive responsibility of the WikiLeaks organization. Ecuadorian government
Assange, who took refuge in Ecuadorâ€™s embassy in London in 2012, lost his internet access over the weekend.
On Tuesday, Wikileaks accused Secretary of State John Kerry of pressuring Ecuador to stop Assange from publishing leaked emails that could disrupt peace negotiations between with a guerrilla group in Colombia.
But the State Department denied the allegation.
â€œWhile our concerns about WikiLeaks are longstanding, any suggestion that Secretary Kerry or the State Department were involved in shutting down WikiLeaks is false.
Reports that Secretary Kerry had conversations with Ecuadorian officials about this are simply untrue. Period,â€ spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
WikiLeaks said it activated â€œcontingency plansâ€ after Assangeâ€™s cut-off, and Ecuador said that its action did not stop the group continuing â€œjournalistic activities.â€
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has long backed Assangeâ€™s right to free speech and has also supported Clinton publicly.
â€œFor the good of the United States and the world … I would like Hillary to win,â€ he told broadcaster Russia Today last month.
By Franco OrdoÃ±ezfordonez
(Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Sandra Maler)