Back in the news again doing what he does best: Julian Assange might be expected to comment on what he perceives as human rights abuses including the current situation relating to the Catalonian Independence movement and Spain’s request to Germany to extradite their former leader Carles Puigdemont on charges of Rebellion. Assange has angered the new Ecuadorian President, Lenin Moreno, with his comments which embassy officials stated ”put at risk the good relations Ecuador maintains with European nations’.
Julian Assange has now had his internet access cut by embassy staff and is not allowed visitors or telephone calls, further increasing his isolation within the embassy. His comments referenced a previous Spanish extradition warrant: ‘In 1940 the elected president of Catalonia was captured by the Gestapo at the request of Spain, delivered to them and executed. Today German police have arrested the elected president of Catalonia,Carles Puigdemont at the request of Spain, to be extradited’ Ironically Germany has refused the extradition warrant stating that the charge of Rebellion would not be upheld in Germany. Extradition on a lesser charge of misappropriation of funds is possible, carrying an 8 years sentence as opposed to 30 years; if this is taken, it is believed Puigdemont could not then be tried in Spain for Rebellion.
President Moreno holds a differing opinion from his predecessor Rafael Coorrea, the left wing leader who granted asylum to Assange 5 years ago. Moreno has previously pledged to continue to offer asylum ‘as long as we assume his life may be in danger’.Since the new government is seeking to realign with the US, Assange may find himself a political pawn in the international power game. If a deal were struck to guarantee that no death penalty would be sought in any future US trial, Ecuador might be released from the current untenable situation in harbouring Assange and find favour with the US. Julian Assange would lose his asylum status and would be arrested on leaving the embassy, his extradition to Sweden and likely the US would follow.
Julian Assange is either a dissident political prisoner or is guilty of treason depending upon your point of view. He founded Wikileaks in 2006, publishing a series of leaks in 2010 provided by former soldier Chelsea Manning. They include the Collateral Murder video, the Afghanistan war logs, the Iraq war logs, and Cablegate. Chelsea Manning who passed thousands of documents to Wikileaks, was charged with espionage and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment (commuted after 7 years by President Barack Obama). The further leaks by Edward Snowden, raised awareness of the US governmental data breaches involving spying on citizens and world leaders resulted in him fleeing the US, before being granted asylum in Russia, where he has resided for almost 5 years.The federal government of the United States launched a criminal investigation into Wikileaks and asked allied nations for assistance. US Senators have called for the death penalty for Julian Assange for ‘aiding the enemy’ if he is returned to the US, the risk is therefore real.
In an effort to avoid extradition Assange was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian Embasasy where he has resided for the past 5 years in what the UN has described as ‘illegal detention’. The UK Metropolitan Police continue to assert that he will be arrested if he leaves the embassy. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention agreed that Assange has been arbitrarily held since his arrest in London in Dec. 7, 2010, over allegations of sex crimes. It called on the British and Swedish governments to end his “deprivation of liberty,” allow him to move freely and afford him the right to compensation for his suffering. He has always expressed a willingness to return to Sweden to address the charges which he denies, so long as assurances are given that any request for extradition by the US would be denied.
The UK threatened to revoke the Ecuadorian embassy’s status but they held firm. Under the previous Ecuadorian administration the following statement was released to explain why they had granted asylum to Julian Assange in 2012: “Publication of information about human rights abuses is a right in accordance with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998, the exercise of which implies a right of protection to those who reveal such violations by honest journalism and the courageous whistleblowers who denounce human rights violations. We felt that the fate of Chelsea Manning, evidence of secret grand jury procedures and Snowden’s exile in Russia corroborate the fears Assange had for his security, freedom and life when he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London more than two years ago.”
Whatever the outcome, we can hope that any future decision by the Ecuadorian government will reflect human rights and not self interest. Assange’s lawyer, Melinda Taylor, said he is the “victim of a significant miscarriage of justice.”