WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London awaiting a decision from Ecuador on his asylum request for over a month now. Recent headlines suggest Ecuador is going through all the motions a country would need to go through before it granted asylum to someone who had made such a request. They also have announced that they will not be making any decision on the Assange’s request while the Olympic games in London are taking place.
Ecuador welcomed Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, this past week. She met with President Rafael Correa on August 1 to share her views on what she fears could happen to her son if Ecuador does not grant asylum. She did not share what was discussed after the meeting ended but did say, “The president, and his ministers, are very knowledgeable intelligent and compassionate people, genuinely so, and they have a good understanding of the case.” She added, “It’s not a secret that the president and his foreign minister believe this case to be political,” and, “The US government feels that it can seek to try my son for espionage, and possibly [execute] him simply for doing the job of a good investigative journalist, which is telling the truth about power.”
Correa said after the meeting if WikiLeaks had revealed information on Ecuador or Venezuela that benefited powers like the US, maybe Assange would be a hero. However, he is being persecuted.
Assange’s mother met with the country’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, on July 30 and told the press after that meeting she was worried about her son’s health after “seven weeks confinement in the South American nation’s London embassy.” She noted Assange had been under “stress” for two years now and this only increased the discomfort he had been experiencing.
Ecuador extended a public invitation to Sweden to come question Assange in their embassy in London. They did this to “protect” Assange’s “life at all costs,” but Sweden refused to go question him. That prompted Ecuador to declare they were disappointed in the country and would now do everything possible to ensure Assange was not extradited to Sweden.
According to Reuters, Patino said, “Even though there isn’t a trial, there aren’t judicial proceedings against him, Sweden wants to imprison him…That’s why we asked the Swedish government to question him where he’s now.” He also stated, “This will be a factor to consider in the decision we have to make. Had we had a positive answer from the Swedish government then we would be considering taking a different kind of decision.”
In an article I wrote for The Nation—“The Fate of Julian Assange“—that was published yesterday, I highlighted other statements Correa and Patino had made so far.
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.”
Additionally, former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has agreed to lead Assange’s legal team. A human rights lawyer who is known for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, Garzón gained additional notoriety when WikiLeaks published the US State Embassy cables, as cables showed the Bush administration had pressured the Spanish government to stop Garzón from indicting high-ranking administration officials for torture at Guantanamo and other overseas prisons.
He was suspended as a judge in May 2010 and made to face three separate trials. He had, according to a New York Times report, opened a criminal investigation into atrocities committed by Spanish General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Garzón and other human rights groups contend he was eventually disbarred and punished because he was investigating past human rights abuses in Spain.
Upon taking over as a representative of Assange’s legal team, he immediately expressed concerns he had over his prosecution by Sweden and the United States. He called the investigation into Assange by Sweden “arbitrary and baseless.”
The Guardian reported Garzón said, “Assange has not rebelled against any jurisdiction, given that he respects the action of the law, but he – and we – are seriously worried about what will happen to him because his situation is becoming political as a result of the great work done by his organization when it comes to denouncing corruption.”
The former Spanish judge declared weeks later the secret grand jury investigation into Assange, WikiLeaks staffers and others associated or connected to the media organization is “undemocratic.”
A democratic country can’t operate with its back to a person who is suspected of very serious crimes that could deprive him of liberty for a long time…The United States should make it known what it is doing so that Mr Assange can stand up for his rights. We don’t know what we are facing.
Garzón also maintained the conditions for a fair trial in Sweden do not exist right now.
It would be a kind of poetic justice if the human rights lawyer the US government tried to shut down was able to make the legal maneuvers necessary so that Assange could eventually have a safe passage to Ecuador from the United Kingdom. And, as impossible as an exit from the country might seem, Correa, Patino and other officials laud the truth-telling power of WikiLeaks, are sympathetic to the fears of Assange and willing to assert their sovereign power to ensure Assange’s human rights are not violated.
The government is clearly taking very public steps that they can point to when they make their final decision. If that decision is one where they do agree to grant asylum, they will be able to point to all the disregard, inaction or lack of cooperation the Swedish, UK and US government showed when it was collecting all the facts so a proper decision could be made. It will make it patently clear that they are not just biased toward Assange and WikiLeaks in a way that bothers US government officials deeply. The “hundreds of pages” long decision, which could come right after the Olympics or months later, will include minute legal and specific political details to prove what has been going on between the three governments has been “arbitrary and baseless,” as Garzón has said.For more on how Assange’s critics scorn him for requesting asylum and why his fear of extradition or prosecution by the US is justified, read my article for The Nation here.