In an extraordinary raising of the stakes, the British government actually threatened to forcibly enter the Ecuadoran embassy and take Julian Assange by force. The embassy has reacted with outrage. I expect to see other South American nations enter the fray soon to try and defuse the situation.
It is advisable to step back a bit and look at the facts. Julian Assange may or may not be guilty of rape. That is yet to be determined. But the fact is that he has so far not even been charged with any crime by any government. The Swedish government is demanding his return to that country only, so they say, in order to question him. That is it. However Assange has made himself available for questioning even before he took asylum in the embassy but the Swedish government declined the offer. The Ecuadoran government also said that they will allow Swedish authorities into the embassy to question him and they have again declined.
In other words, the British government has threatened an act that violates all diplomatic protocol and may violate international law when the same end could have been achieved a long time ago with little fuss. Mark Weisbrot gives an excellent summary of why the whole thing looks so fishy.
Is there anyone in their right mind who believes that the UK government would make such an unprecedented threat if this were just about an ordinary foreign citizen wanted for questioning – not criminal charges or a trial – by a foreign government?
First, the merits of the case: Assange clearly has a well-founded fear of persecution if he were to be extradited to Sweden. It is pretty much acknowledged that he would be immediately thrown in jail. Since he is not charged with any crime, and the Swedish government has no legitimate reason to bring him to Sweden, this by itself is a form of persecution.
We can infer that the Swedes have no legitimate reason for the extradition, since they were repeatedly offered the opportunity to question him in the UK, but rejected it, and have also refused to even put forth a reason for this refusal. A few weeks ago the Ecuadorian government offered to allow Assange to be questioned in its London embassy, where Assange has been residing since 19 June, but the Swedish government refused – again without offering a reason. This was an act of bad faith in the negotiating process that has taken place between governments to resolve the situation.
Former Stockholm chief district prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem also made it clear that the Swedish government had no legitimate reason to seek Assange’s extradition when he testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate”, because he could be easily questioned in the UK.
[Ecuadoran president Rafael] Correa made this decision because it was the only ethical thing to do. And any of the independent, democratic governments of South America would have done the same. If only the world’s biggest media organisations had the same ethics and commitment to freedom of speech and the press.
Now we will see if the UK government will respect international law and human rights conventions and allow Assange safe passage to Ecuador.
Recall when the Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng took refuge in the US embassy in April of this year. The Chinese government not only allowed him and his family to leave the country, they even expedited the process of getting passports and other exit documents for them. Imagine how the US would have reacted if the Chinese government threatened to enter the US embassy and take him by force.
The statement by the Ecuadoran foreign minister Ricardo Patiño Aroca at a press conference announcing the decision to grant asylum is quite remarkable too, making a lengthy argument a portion of which is produced below:
3. That there is strong evidence of retaliation by the country or countries that produced the information disclosed by Mr. Assange, retaliation that may endanger his safety, integrity, and even his life;
4. That, despite Ecuador’s diplomatic efforts, countries which have been asked to give adequate safeguards for the protection and safety for the life of Mr. Assange have refused to facilitate them;
5. That Ecuadorian authorities are certain of the possibility that Mr. Assange could be extadited to a third country outside the European Union without proper guarantees for their safety and personal integrity;
6. That legal evidence clearly shows that, given an extradition to the United States of America, it would be unlikely for Mr. Assange to receive a fair trial, and likely that he would be judged by special or military courts, where there is a high probability of suffering cruel and degrading treatment, and be sentenced to life imprisonment or capital punishment, which would violate his human rights
What is remarkable about the Ecuadoran government’s statement is that they saying openly what is widely expressed privately about what has been obvious for some time, that the US is a rogue nation that has little regard for the law or due process or human rights if they happen to get in the way of its geopolitical goals. We have seen successive US governments not only claim the right to kill, torture, and/or detain indefinitely without trial or counsel anyone anywhere, but to also grant immunity to the people who commit such war crimes on its behalf. It has also treated viciously those who expose its wrongdoing.
The Ecuadoran government statement says that they sought assurances from the US that it was not seeking to extradite Assange but they declined to provide them.
Finally, Ecuador wrote to the U.S. government to officially reveal its position on Assange’s case. Inquiries related to the following:
1. If there is an ongoing legal process or intent to carry out such processes against Julian Assange and/or the founders of the WikiLeaks organization;
2. Should the above be true, then under what kind of legislation, and how and under what conditions would such persons be subject to under maximum penalties;
3. Whether there is an intention to request the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States.
The U.S. response has been that it cannot provide information about the Assange case, claiming that it is a bilateral matter between Ecuador and the United Kingdom.
Can anyone really be that naïve to think that constant discussions are not going on between the US, UK, and Sweden on how to get Assange into the hands of the US? Is it really unreasonable for Assange to think that Sweden asking him to be returned just for questioning is merely a ruse, when he has agreed to be questioned in the UK and in the Ecuadoran embassy? The fact that the US has not initiated extradition proceedings is hardly a sign that they will not do so as soon as he is in Sweden.
I find it surprising that there are still people who think that the US and Britain and Sweden act according to the law. Governments tend to obey the law only when it is convenient to do so. When it is not, they either change the law or interpret it conveniently to make it conform to their needs or simply ignore it. The US is one of the leaders in such hypocrisy and the British and Swedish governments have already shown a clear willingness to act as its agents. Sweden showed that it is willing to obey the US by extraditing people to third countries to be tortured. The British government has acted similarly. Do we really expect this trio of nations that have previously treated the law and human rights so cavalierly to suddenly adhere scrupulously to the law in this case, when the US is clearly anxious to get its hands on Assange?
The trouble that Assange faces is that much of the western media hates Wikileaks because they not only exposed the wrongdoings of their governments, they also exposed the media’s own vapidity and shallowness as they missed all the stories that the leaks revealed because they were too busy acting as stenographers for their governments.
This action of granting asylum and defying the US takes extraordinary courage by the Ecuadoran government. The US government has proven that it can be very vindictive towards other countries that do not bow to its will (Cuba being a prime example) and we can expect to see retaliatory actions taking all forms.