Julian Assange, the Australian 40-year-old founder of whistleblowing website Wikileaks, is looking for political asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy. Assange’s bid to the Supreme Court to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden has been refused, reported the BBC.
Assange doesn’t want to go to Sweden, because he thinks he may then be sent to the US – where he could face spying and treason charges over Wikileaks which could give him the death penalty. He is wanted for questioning in Sweden over two claims of sexual assault; no charges have been made. He denies the allegations, and complains that Australia has abandoned him; Australia says it will still offer him consular support. He has until 28 June to lodge an appeal against the British court’s decision at the European Court of Human Rights.
A statement from the Ecuadorean foreign office said that the country would consider Assange’s bid, and would seek the opinions of the UK, Sweden and the US before making a decision. Ecuador had offered him asylum two years ago, but then retracted it. Commentators are seeing this as the latest twist in a high-profile legal battle which may well leave his backers – including Jemima Khan, who put up £20,000 for his bail money – out of pocket.
Assange wouldn’t be charged with treason; he just doesn’t give a monkey’s
Nick Farrell on TechEye said that it seemed Assange “did not really give a monkey’s for those who raised £200,000” as bail (including Jemima Khan), and “just legged it when he had the opportunity.” This will annoy the Americans, and the British government, and “his wealthy backers.” Ecuador might even “not want anything to do with him.” Ecuador will have to be sure that Assange is facing political, not criminal charges; but the fact is, he hasn’t been charged with “treason or spying” by Sweden or the US, so it’s unlikely he’d face the death penalty.
@iankatz1000 Yes. I had expected him to face the allegations. I am as surprised as anyone by this.
— Jemima Khan (@Jemima_Khan) June 19, 2012
Assange has lost his integrity
A comment by Fredsnotdead on Mail Online said that the Wikileaks affair was “turning into a bit of a soap opera,” and hoped that Assange was made to face the music. Otherwise, he’ll just have to “go on the run.” He’s no longer a “man of integrity”, whilst “many former supporters now regard him as a kook.” His time as a “respected journalist is over. Unless of course it really is all a global conspiracy masterminded by America to suppress their evil secrets at all cost…”
Assange’s move was prompted by his limited options
Owen Bowcott at The Guardian looked into the legal implications. He’s applied for protection from his European arrest warrant, citing the Human Rights Declaration. His move will “focus attention on the extent of diplomatic immunity for foreign embassies in the UK.” By choosing Ecuador, he’s clearly found a country “in accord with his political views, not closely aligned with the United States …. beyond the reach of the European arrest warrant.” Some thought he would have little ground for an appeal in Strasbourg – which may have prompted this “dramatic switch.”
Ecuador’s a strange choice
But Ecuador is a “far from obvious choice,” said Brian Braiker on The Guardian. It has “a tenuous respect for international human rights law.” Its justice system and “record on free speech” have been questioned by Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Amnesty International. A Financial Times blog agreed, adding that “Asylum makes for strange bedfellows indeed.”
Don’t forget all the other people facing extradition
Democratic Underground said this was all very well, but it’s “only the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to extradition cases. In 2009, 700 people were extradited “under Europe’s fast track” system. “You better hope you never get caught up in this Kafakaesque system where governments agree or collude on your fate.”
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