QUITO, Ecuador -- Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino accused journalists of distorting his comments Wednesday on the asylum application from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
On an official visit to Malaysia, Patino compared Snowden’s case to that of Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website, who has been given asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
“It took us two months to make a decision in the case of Assange, so do not expect us to make a decision sooner this time,” Patino told reporters in Malaysia’s main city, Kuala Lumpur, according to the Associated Press.
The comment was widely interpreted as suggesting that Snowden could remain in legal limbo for months.
But Patino later said in a series of tweets, “In Kuala Lumpur, I said the decision on asylum could be resolved in a day, a week or, as happened with Assange, it could take two months. Some media left out the first part of the comment and left only the second. They were trying to confuse, as we know they do.” [Link in Spanish]
At a news conference in Vietnam on Monday, Patino expressed sympathy for Snowden and assailed U.S. government and elected officials who described the former NSA contractor as a traitor. The United States has charged Snowden with violating the Espionage Act and revoked his U.S. passport for his leaking of classified material.
It was not clear whether he might be allowed into Ecuador with some form of official permission, pending a decision on his asylum request.
Local press reports in Ecuador theorized that Snowden has not yet left the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport because without a valid passport, he cannot buy a commercial plane ticket.
Patino is not expected back in Ecuador until early next week, and a spokeswoman at the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that he is the only ministry official authorized to comment on the case.
Meanwhile, President Rafael Correa broke a two-day silence on the issue, lashing out at some international media coverage that he said focused on the perceived double standards of the Ecuadorean government and not on the U.S. surveillance activities that Snowden denounced.
“What shamelessness,” Correa wrote on his Twitter account. ”It makes you realize the power of the press.”