5 famous cases of political asylum

Even before Julian Assange, alleged criminals of all stripes have sought and landed asylum in countries including the U.K., U.S. and The Vatican.

Legal and religious tradition goes back centuries

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador, his latest move to avoid extradition to Sweden (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

Based on long-standing legal and religious traditions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone "has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution" — a principle backed up by other modern and international agreements including the Geneva Convention. Notable cases of political asylum include:

Alexandre Konanykhine

Bankster or refugee? According to officials in Moscow this jet-setting financial whiz kid and associate of then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin embezzled some $8 million from his own bank. Konanykhine, then 30, and his wife were arrested in Washington D.C., in 1996. But by 1999, following testimony from experts that included a former KGB agent, the pair had convinced an immigration judge they were the victims of political persecution. The court changed its mind in 2004 and was set to send them back to Moscow, though that ruling was later reversed.

Nixon Moreno

He is wanted in his native Venezuela for the rape and assault of a female police officer, which allegedly occurred amid violent protests in 2006. But Moreno, a student activist, fled to a nearby Vatican embassy and according to the Caracas-based El Universal was in 2008 granted asylum "for humanitarian reasons."

József Mindszenty

This Roman Catholic clergyman and critic of the Soviet-era Hungarian government lived for 15 years in the U.S. embassy in Budapest. Arrested in 1948 for opposing the secularization of church schools, he was sentenced to life in prison only to be set free during the mass revolt in 1956. But when the uprising fizzled he sought asylum in the U.S. embassy in Budapest — where he lived for the next 15 years. He eventually went into exile and died in 1975. After the fall of communism, his remains were returned to Hungary in 1991.

Ilyas Akhmadov

The former foreign minister of Chechnya has been living in the United States since 2004, despite claims by Russia he is linked to international terrorists. Moscow issued an international warrant for Akhmadov, which put the U.S. in an awkward position after arresting him. Russia was a declared ally in the "war on terror" but the case against Akhmadov was seen as less than airtight.

Benny Wenda

A tribal leader from West Papua and advocate of its independence from Indonesia, Wenda was arrested and put on trial for allegedly leading a violent protest and in 2002, only to escape and seek political asylum in the U.K. Earlier this month Interpol took him off its wanted list, ruling the Indonesian arrest warrant was politically motivated. He now lives in Oxford, England, according to the BBC.