Ecuador rejects extradition request for Belarusian political refugee
A judge on Ecuador's highest court has rejected an extradition request from Belarus for a former police investigator who is wanted by Belarus authorities for alleged fraud and extortion.
Judge Carlos Ramirez of the National Court of Justice on August 28 concluded that the political-refugee status granted to Alyaksandr Barankou was justified and ordered him freed immediately.
The 30-year old Barankou, who was granted asylum in Ecuador in 2010, says he fled Belarus after uncovering an oil-smuggling ring involving senior officials of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.
He says his life could be in danger if he returns home.
Barankou's case gained prominence after Ecuador granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Asange, saying Assange faced the risk of an unfair trial and a possible death sentence in the United States.
Barankou was expected to be released on August 29.
Barankou blames his arrest and jailing in early June on pressure from the Belarus regime ahead of a visit by Lukashenka later that month.
Ecuador had already rejected a Belarusian extradition request in October, with judges ruling the evidence presented against Barankou to be inadequate.
Belarusian authorities maintain Barankou is a common criminal who extorted bribes from businessmen.
Human rights activists have said that although it is unclear what kind of information Barankou may have, the persistence with which Belarusian authorities have pursued his extradition suggests he may have had access to some sensitive information.
Lukashenka's regime has faced international condemnation and Western sanctions over its crackdown on the opposition and civil society.
Belarus is the only European country that still imposes the death penalty.
Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa had said he would not comment on Barankou's case until the court ruled. But his deputy foreign minister said the government would treat the case with the same respect for human rights that guided it in considering Assange's request for asylum.
Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for questioning over sex-crime allegations, took refuge in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London two months ago.
Assange says he fears he would be handed over to the United States, where he could face prosecution for the publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
Belarus routinely prosecutes dissidents and has increased its punitive activities since postelection protests broke out following the December 2010 presidential election.