UPDATE: Martin Beckford of the Telegraph reports that Julian Assange “will still face arrest the minute he walks out of the Knightsbridge building” because he breached his bail conditions. Thus he cannot be given diplomatic immunity by Ecuador, even if he is granted asylum, because the Foreign Office would not approve the application.A policeman told reporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy that he was “not aware of any agreements which would allow him safe passage out of the UK.”
ORIGINAL: Julian Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London Tuesday after the UK Supreme Court decided not to reopen his appeal against an extradition order to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning resulting from allegations of sexual assault by two women.
We previously reported that this isn’t the craziest plan in the world. In fact there are numerous reasons why it seems quite reasonable and why it could work.
It is also Assange’s last option: if Ecuador grants Assange’s request for asylum from persecution under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he would avoid legal proceedings seeking his extradition and be eligible to enjoy protected passage from the UK to Ecuador.
If his application is rejected, the WikiLeaks founder would be most likely be arrested once he left the embassy and his extradition to Sweden would proceed. Which means that his presumed extradition to the U.S. — where he could feasibly face the death penalty — would proceed.
The sexual assault allegations against Assange are serious, and the best way to treat them seriously is to see that the case receives a fair and legal resolution while providing Assange with the presumption of innocence until that happens.
Below are the strongest reasons why Assange, who has not been charged with a crime, made a reasonable request for political asylum from Ecuador:
- Assange, 40, is friendly with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and recently interviewed on his show “The World Tomorrow.” Correa dismissed the U.S. ambassador to the country as a result of U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. Ecuador, which is not a major recipient of U.S. economic or military aid, is not beholden to the whims of Washington.
- In 2010 Ecuador actually offered Assange residency when he was placed on the US government’s most-wanted list as Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas said that Ecuador was “open to giving him residency in Ecuador, without any problem and without any conditions.” (Correa later said he did not approve the offer.)
- Assange’s own government has done nothing to help him — in fact, it has been passing laws to enable his extradition to the U.S. The president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance told Lawyers Weekly that Ecuador has picked up the responsibility of the Australian government.
- In December 2010 Australian diplomatic cables revealed that WikiLeaks was the target of an “unprecedented” U.S. criminal probe and that the U.S. Justice Department — through a secret Grand Jury — was looking to charge Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act. (According internal emails from U.S. private security firm Stratfor, there is already a sealed indictment against Assange.)
- If convicted under the Espionage Act, Assange faces lifelong imprisonment or the death penalty. Over 15 U.S. public figures and media personalities have publicly called for Assange’s assassination.
- There is a precedent of Sweden unlawfully handing over asylum-seekers at the behest of the U.S. Sweden violated a global ban on torture when it transferred two suspected terrorists to Egypt at the request of the CIA. The asylum-seekers were brutally tortured, and were ultimately found to be innocent any connection to terrorism.
- Legal journalist Glenn Greenwald points out that Sweden’s laws permit oppressive pre-trial conditions (e.g. severe restrictions on communications with the outside world) and extreme levels of judicial secrecy would enable the U.S. and Sweden to deal with Assange beyond public scrutiny. (Even the U.S. State Department condemned Sweden’s “restrictive conditions for prisoners held in pretrial custody.”)
- The most important political prisoner of contemporary times, Bradley Manning, was subject to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” pre-trial conditions and now faces capital charges of aiding al-Qaida in a case that has less transparency than the trials of Guantánamo Bay detainees.
Interestingly, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern considers Assange’s move an “artful dodge” and says that “not only is Julian Assange within his rights to seek asylum, he is also in his right mind.” McGovern openly wonders how Assange slipped through the various police checkpoints and walked into the Ecuadorian embassy at a time when he was surely a flight risk.
He implies that UK authorities would be relieved if Assange is granted asylum as they have been “holding their noses for weeks against the odor” of giving in to U.S. demands to deliver Assange to Swedish authorities so that he can be extradited to the U.S. to face charges for “publishing classified information highly embarrassing to Washington.”
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