Ecuador President Rafael Correa has stated the rumor that WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange has been granted asylum is false. Using his Twitter account, he declared, “There is still no decision. I hope Foreign Ministry report.”
The “rumor” is the result of officials in Quito, one of whom The Guardian quoted as saying, “Ecuador will grant asylum to Julian Assange.” The official also said, “We see Assange’s request as a humanitarian issue,” and, “It is clear that when Julian entered the embassy there was already some sort of deal. We see in his work a parallel with our struggle for national sovereignty and the democratization of international relations.”
WikiLeaks had issued no official statement confirming this development. They had not even confirmed via their Twitter account that Ecuador had granted Assange asylum yet the official statements from Quito spread widely and were reported by NBC News, The Atlantic’s blog, Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Beast, and The Daily Telegraph.
The articles published all lacked one important element that would substantiate the news: comment from a spokesperson for WikiLeaks or Assange that would confirm this was really true.
Reuters reported a statement from WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, “I cannot confirm. I just spoke to him (Assange) and he said he had not been notified either.” The Wall Street Journal reported a “high-level” Ecuadorean official had stated, “”The only spokesman is the president, and he will be the one who announces the official decision.”
These officials in Quito who spoke with The Guardian are not named. It is impossible to know who exactly they were or if they were doing this to undermine the decision. The decision was known to be scheduled for announcement some time this week. Presumably, it will still be announced some time this week as planned. But now the Ecuador government has been able to see how the world might react if asylum is granted.
It would seem as if Assange will be granted asylum. One hint is the British Foreign Office stating ahead of the announcement, “The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden. We are determined to fulfill this obligation.” Reuters published a full article giving voice to all the issues the UK has with Assange’s request, including comments from a retired British ambassador who said the “British government should have asked Ecuador to hand over Assange as soon as it learnt that he had sought refuge in the embassy. If the answer had been ‘no,’ the ambassador should have been threatened with expulsion.” They should not have let him remain in the embassy because that sends a message to “every criminal in London ‘All you’ve got to do is to pay a small sum to some ambassador and you can have a free ride.'”
Additionally, Reuters reported the US business community might be seeking to take retaliatory action if Ecuador were to grant asylum. The coercive statements in the article downplay the reality, which is that trade relations between the US and Ecuador have been sour for Big Oil because Ecuador has decided it will not tolerate pollution from Chevron-owned Texaco. There is a long-running legal battle that goes back to the 1990s. Nonetheless, the Washington Post floated the idea in a sneering editorial published when Assange entered the Ecuadorean embassy that the US government could take away trade benefits:
…The U.S. “empire” he professes to despise happens to grant Ecuador (which uses the dollar as its currency) special trade preferences that allow it to export many goods duty-free. A full third of Ecuadoran foreign sales ($10 billion in 2011) go to the United States, supporting some 400,000 jobs in a country of 14 million people. Those preferences come up for renewal by Congress early next year. If Mr. Correa seeks to appoint himself America’s chief Latin American enemy and Julian Assange’s protector between now and then, it’s not hard to imagine the outcome…
If the business and political communities intend to mobilize, it would seem that might have the effect of emboldening Correa and the Ecuador government, who believe they have the right to make a sovereign decision and do not have to submit to any world power.
There’s no decision, but the loose lips of Ecuadorean officials have given the world a preview of what the immediate moments will be like after the decision. Certainly, the world can expect multiple childish and sensational treatments of the story like, “Will Ecuador have to smuggle Assange out of Britain?” There also will be plenty of snide reactions from business analysts, government officials, commentators, pundits, former ambassadors, human rights advocates and others repulsed by Ecuador. That is, of course, if Assange is granted asylum. If he is not granted asylum, there will still be plenty of snide reactions from business analysts, government officials, commentators, pundits, former ambassadors, human rights advocates and others repulsed by Ecuador. The peevish response will just be one focused on how long it took to deny his request and how Assange should stop stalling and face “justice.”