QUITO, Ecuador – Ecuador will treat an extradition request from Belarus' government for a former financial crimes investigator with the same respect for human rights that guided it in the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the deputy foreign minister said Wednesday.
"Ecuador will put the emphasis on not extraditing a citizen whose life is at risk, from the death penalty or life in prison," the official, Marco Albuja, told reporters.
Less than a year ago, an Ecuadorean judge denied a request to extradite Aliaksandr Barankov to the former Soviet bloc country whose president has been nicknamed "Europe's last dictator." Barankov, 30, says he could be killed if sent home because he unearthed corruption at the highest levels of government.
A high court judge's decision on a new extradition request is due in the coming days. President Rafael Correa would then have the last word.
Barankov's case came under scrutiny when Ecuador announced last week that it was granting Assange asylum because it deemed that he ran the risk of being unfairly tried by the United States and possibly facing the death sentence.
Just before Lukashenko spent two days in Ecuador in June on an official visit, however, Barankov was arrested and jailed. The former police captain is accused of fraud and extortion in Belarus, accusations he calls trumped up after he uncovered an oil-smuggling ring in which relatives of Lukashenko were involved.
Told of Albuja's statement, Barankov was hopeful.
"I want to say that this protects not just my life but also protects the lives of my parents," Barankov said by phone from prison, adding that his father had been hospitalized with heart problems.
Asked earlier Wednesday by The Associated Press about Barankov's case, Correa said, "We obviously reject any attack on human rights, (any) political persecution."
But he said he would not comment on the Barankov case until Judge Carlos Ramirez of the National Court of Justice ruled.
A court spokesperson, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said a Ramirez ruling was expected "in coming days."
Barankov is backed by rights activists in his homeland, where Lukashenko has ruled for 18 years by fixing elections, quashing free speech, jailing dissidents and keeping 80 percent of industry in state hands.
At a news conference Wednesday, Correa said Ecuador is open to dialogue with Britain and Sweden over Assange, who sought refuge in Ecuador's London embassy on June 19 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct.
"Ecuador doesn't negotiate its principles, its values (or) human rights, and it's not going to negotiate in this case," Correa said. "But we are going to discuss what they (Britain and Sweden) want and try to find a way out of what I would call an impasse."
"Never will we compromise our principles and put in danger the human rights of Mr. Assange," the president said.
Correa also said that given the differences between Ecuador and Britain, he is weighing whether Vice President Lenin Moreno, who uses a wheelchair, should go to London for the opening of the Paraolympic Games later this month.
Assange contends the sexual relations he had with his two female accusers in Sweden was consensual and his supporters call them a pretext for having him extradited to the United States, where they believe he has been secretly indicted for publishing online the biggest trove of U.S. secrets ever.
"There continue to be hegemonic powers who believe themselves to be owners of the truth and lords of the world and who don't understand that the world is changing," Correa said.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.