Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, entered the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom last night and requested political asylum. Ecuador’s foreign minister says the country is now reviewing the request.
The decision to seek asylum comes just days after the UK Supreme Court decided to not reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged conduct that occurred during sexual encounters with two women in 2010. The Court ruled against his appeal on May 30.
The Ministry Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration put out a press release on Assange’s request for asylum. The release indicated that he believes high-ranking officials in Australia have made statements that make it impossible for him to return to his home country.
A Foreign Policy magazine article provides brief history of how embassies have become a sanctuary for those seeking refuge from political persecution:
In 1961, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations codified prevailing customary law by declaring the “premises” of diplomatic missions “inviolable” — effectively barring security agents in a host country from entering embassy grounds without the embassy’s permission. The treaty added that “premises” included the head of the diplomatic mission’s residence and that the private residences of diplomats also enjoyed “inviolability,” though it’s unclear whether this clause applies toall diplomats. The New York Times points out that if Chen is indeed holed up in an American diplomat’s apartment, it “could leave him open to an attempt by security forces to seize him,” according to unnamed diplomats interviewed by the paper.
This inviolability explains why embassies are our modern-day sovereign sanctuaries. But, importantly, the Vienna Convention says nothing about a diplomatic mission granting asylum to a person fleeing authorities in the host country — what the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and others have called “diplomatic asylum” (Latin America, for its part, has enshrined the concept of “diplomatic asylum” in regional treaties.) Asylum seekers typically leave their country before applying for help either in the country where they want to resettle or in a third country.
On November 30, 2010, just days after the release of US State Embassy cables began, Ecuador extended an offer to Assange to establish residency. BBC News reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas said, “We are open to giving him residency in Ecuador, without any problem and without any conditions.” Lucas also said, “We are going to try and invite him to Ecuador to freely present, not only via the internet, but also through different public forums, the information and documentation that he has.”
Cables from Ecuador had not yet been released. Australia was just beginning to look into whether Assange had broken Australian laws by releasing documents. And Sweden had already announced months ago that it was investigating Assange but a European Arrest Warrant had not been issued and he was not yet under house arrest in the United Kingdom.
Ecuador President Rafael Correa appeared on the sixth episode of Julian Assange’s television show, “The World Tomorrow.” In the opening, Correa asked Assange how many days he had been under house arrest. Assange said over five hundred days. His face reacted to this with an expression of disbelief and empathy. The two discussed Ecuador’s perception of the United States, how Correa was handling big media owners and how he had managed to push through radical changes in Ecuador. When the interview was over he said to Assange, “It has been a pleasure to meet you, Julian, at least through this means. And, cheer up! Cheer up! Welcome to the club of the persecuted!”
Correa made quips about the United States, like, “The only country that can be certain it is never going to have a coup d’etat is the United States because it doesn’t have a US Embassy.” Assange laughed. Correa showed no animosity toward Assange for the release of diplomatic cables. He held up a book by two Argentina authors called “Wiki Media Leaks” and highlighed how Ecuadorean “media did not publish those cables or news which affected them.” And he added: “We believe, my dear Julian, that the only things that should be protected against information sharing are those set in the international treaties, in the Inter American Convention on Human Rights: the dignity and the reputation of the people and the safety of people and the state. The rest, the more people find out about it, the better.”
Assange can appeal his extradition to Sweden in the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR). Yet, what are the chances that succeeds? If Ecuador will help him escape the European Union, it seems like a good move. In Ecuador, the government under Correa would stand up to the US and seek to prevent the US government from persecuting him. He would escape a struggle that has already forced him to endure over five hundred days under house arrest. So, it’s tough to not sympathize with Assange’s decision to seek help from Ecuador.
And, like Glenn Greenwald explains in his post on this:
Assange’s resolve to avoid extradition to Sweden has nothing to do with a reluctance to face possible sex assault charges there. His concern all along has been that once he’s in Swedish custody, he will far more easily be extradited to the U.S.
In general, small countries are more easily coerced and bullied by the U.S., and Sweden in particular has a demonstrated history of aceeding to U.S. demands when it comes to individuals accused of harming American national security. In December, 2001, Sweden handed over two asylum-seekers to the CIA, which then rendered them to be tortured in Egypt. A ruling from the U.N. Human Rights Committee found Sweden in violation of the global ban on torture for its role in that rendition (the two individuals later received a substantial settlement from the Swedish government). The fact that Sweden has unusually oppressive pre-trial procedures — allowing for extreme levels of secrecy in its judicial proceedings — only heightens Assange’s concern about what will happen to him vis-a-vis the U.S. if he ends up in Swedish custody.
It’s hard to conclude that Assange’s fear is unfounded and wholly unreasonable. Given the way that the United States government reacted hysterically to the WikiLeaks releases in 2010 and the fact that a wide-ranging law enforcement investigation in the FBI into WikiLeaks and all individuals connected was launched, it is incredibly possible that Assange would face a request for extradition once he was in Sweden.
Here’s President Rafael Correa’s appearance on “The World Tomorrow” with Julian Assange.
These are tweets from Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca that further indicate what Assange communicated to the Ecuadorean Embassy in his request: