Ecuador granted WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s request for political asylum, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Thursday.

The evidence “backs up Julian Assange’s fears that he is a victim of political persecution as a result of his determined defense for freedom of expression and a free press,” Patino said to reporters in Quito.

Assange, 41, sought asylum in Ecuador’s Embassy in London on June 19 after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avert extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation. Assange sought asylum to avoid what he says are U.S. efforts to punish him for releasing diplomatic secrets through his WikiLeaks website.

First arrested in London in December 2010, Assange breached the terms of his bail by staying at the Ecuadorean Embassy and may be arrested again if he steps outside the South American country’s embassy, the Metropolitan Police Service said in June.

The two women who accused Assange of sexual misconduct are both supporters of WikiLeaks and let Assange stay at their homes during a speaking tour in Sweden in 2010. The allegations became public around the same time he posted the leaked cables on the Internet.

The U.K. Court of Appeal ruled in November that he should return to Sweden to face the allegations. He hasn’t been charged with a crime.

Warning Letter

The U.K. has sent a letter to Ecuador’s embassy warning that it would enter the compound if Assange isn’t handed over to local authorities, Patino told reporters.

The U.K. has the power, under the 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act, to review the diplomatic status of an embassy, said a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, who declined to be named in line with government practice. The U.K. would prefer to reach an agreement with Ecuador, he said.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, an ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last year expelled the U.S. ambassador to Quito, Heather Hodges, over allegations she made in a classified diplomatic cable that he knowingly appointed a corrupt police chief. The cable was published by Wikileaks.

The two nations have also sparred over Correa’s attempts to imprison journalists for publishing remarks he found offensive. In April, President Barack Obama named Ecuador as an example of nations that have implemented measures restricting free speech.