Julian Assange. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud
Over a month ago, the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, entered the Ecuadorean embassy in the United Kingdom and requested political asylum. He has been holed up in the embassy ever since, waiting for the Ecuadorean government to decide on his request, which Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño says will come after the London Olympics. Assange also recently hired former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón to represent his legal team.
The Ecuadorean government appears to be seriously considering the possibility of granting Assange asylum. President Rafael Correa has said the situation is “not simple” and must be studied thoroughly before the country can announce a decision. Patiño has indicated Ecuador will release a document that may be “hundreds of pages” long, which will provide “sufficient justification” for the decision made because the country realizes it could have great “international impact.” And Anna Alban, Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, flew to Ecuador on June 23 to meet with Correa and brief him on the application.
Statements made by both Correa and Patiño seem to favor Assange. Patiño told the press on July 5 he found the sexual assault allegations against Assange to be “hilarious” because they stem from a broken condom. On June 22, Correa said, “In Ecuador, if someone had done one hundredth of what has been done to Assange, they would be called dictators and oppressors.” Correa also later declared Ecuador “will consult with everyone” but the country will “make a sovereign decision” and not be pressured by Sweden, the UK or the United States. He made a key acknowledgment: the death penalty exists in the United States for “political crimes” and if Assange’s life is “at risk,” that would be “sufficient cause to approve his asylum.”
Officials have made it clear to Swedish authorities that they could come question Assange in the embassy at any time. They have sought diplomatic assurances from the UK and Swedish authorities that Assange would not be extradited to the United States, especially if he went to Sweden to be questioned. They’ve done what one might expect a country to do if they were preparing to grant an asylum request.
If Ecuador were to grant asylum, an agreement on “safe passage” would have to be worked out before Assange could leave the UK. The Metropolitan Police have served him with a notice that he is to be extradited to Sweden and accused him of violating his bail conditions by remaining in the Ecuadorean embassy. Without an agreement, the police would likely arrest him before he reached an airplane for Ecuador.
For making his asylum request, Assange has been criticized for being paranoid or considering himself above the law. His supporters have even faced scorn from commentators for defending his decision to exercise his legal right and seek asylum. So, what evidence exists to suggest Assange is right to consider himself a political target and not a common criminal?
The first sign is Swedish authorities have not questioned him yet. As Susan Benn of the Julian Assange Defense Fund stated on June 29, “Although it is normal procedure, Swedish authorities have refused, without reason, to make the three hour trip to London and to interview Julian causing him to be trapped in the UK under virtual house arrest” for over 500 days. Also, once in Sweden, Assange would be imprisoned immediately and not have any opportunity to seek asylum at any embassy in Sweden.