Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has created an international standoff.
Assange is evading extradition to Sweden for questioning about rape charges.
The move leaves Assange with protection from arrest only on Ecuadorian territory, i.e. the embassy itself in London. To leave the embassy for Ecuador, he would need cooperation that Britain has said it will not offer.
Assange has not been charged with a crime, he's offered to answer Sweden's questions in the confines of the Ecuadorian embassy, and he's offered to go to Sweden for questioning if guaranteed not to be extradited to the US.
As the New York Times reports, the decision adds to sharp strains between Ecuador and Britain. Just before the announcement of asylum in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, President Rafael Correa said on his Twitter account: “No one is going to terrorize us!” The night before, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said that the British authorities had threatened to force their way into the embassy, to which he responded: “We are not a British colony.”
Boom. International scandal.
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Friday 4 PM: Russia Weighs in On the Debate: AFP Reports: Russia on Friday warned Britain against violating fundamental diplomatic principles after London suggested it could arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside Ecuador's embassy.
"What is happening gives grounds to contemplate the observance of the spirit and the letter of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and in particular the Article 22 spelling out the inviolability of diplomatic premises," the Russian foreign ministry said.
Friday 12 PM: The End Game For Assange: He'll Be Sent To and Tried In The U.S.
From the Sydney Morning Herald: Australian diplomats have no doubt the United States is still gunning for Julian Assange, according to Foreign Affairs Department documents obtained by The Saturday Age.
The Australian embassy in Washington has been tracking a US espionage investigation targeting the WikiLeaks publisher for more than 18 months.
The declassified diplomatic cables, released under freedom of information laws, show Australia's diplomatic service takes seriously the likelihood that Assange will eventually be extradited to the US on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining leaked US military and diplomatic documents.
Thursday 9:53 PM: As Cristina Maza explains, "Analysts are now speculating as to whether orders from the United States are behind Great Britain’s threat to revoke the diplomatic protection of a sovereign state’s embassy. The move has led Ecuadorian officials to publicly denounce Great Britain, claiming that the time for British colonialism is over, and stating that Ecuador will be forced to consider it a hostile act if British officials are to storm Ecuador’s embassy or revoke its diplomatic status."
Thursday 3:30 PM: Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr says Australia has no intention of intervening in WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's attempts to claim asylum in Ecuador. Assange is an Australian national.
Thursday 3 PM: Britain said it would not allow Julian Assange safe passage to leave the country Thursday, hours after the WikiLeaks founder was granted asylum by Ecuador amid an escalating diplomatic crisis.
British Foreign Minister William Hague said he was determined to see Assange extradited to Sweden to face sex assault claims but added there were no plans to storm Ecuador's London embassy, meaning the current standoff could last indefinitely.
"We will not allow Mr. Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom nor is there any legal basis for us to do so," Hague said during a press conference. "The United Kingdom does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum."
Thursday 12 PM PolicyMic Global Affairs Pundit Lena Kheir adds some background on the Assange scandal:
For a journalist, choosing to relocate to Ecuador is a strange move given the nation’s track record with freedom of expression and media censorship.
According to Human Rights Watch, five journalists were jailed for defaming public authorities, along with 18 others who face similar charges, since 2008. In July of 2011, Emilio Palacio, a columnist for El Universo, was sentenced to three years in prison and fined $40 million for his article on the police revolt of September 2010, in which he called Correa “a dictator.”
No matter the risk associated with Assange’s decision, it is important to recognize his relationship with Correa. Last month, the president was interviewed on Assange’s show for the Russian network, RT. They spoke about diplomatic relations between Ecuador and the United States, and Correa’s media “reforms,” which consist of heavy crackdown on media companies.
Wikileaks’ cables put the Correa administration in a tough spot. Correa told Assange that “media power … was, and it probably is, greater than political power.” Ironically, Assange is known for his controversial statement that Wikileaks cables helped bring down oppressive dictatorships. Again, it looks like Assange’s decision to move to a country inhospitable to journalists seems unwise.
However, there are strong motivations to go through with this asylum appeal. As we await the outcome of the request, here are a few rationales for it:
Asylum is his last chance to sidestep extradition to Sweden, where Assange officially faces rape charges.
Assange fears that the Swedish authorities may hand him over to the American government, possibly with the intention of prosecuting him under the Espionage Act. In 2010, Wikileaks exposed about 250,000 State Department cables. Investigators will look into whether Assange told Bradley Manning to leak the cables.
Assange can feel safe in South America as long as Correa remains in office, which should not be too difficult, considering he is the most popular democratically-elected president of Ecuador.
Assange is using the weakened diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Ecuador to his advantage, following the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador in 2011.
Even if Assange may never be allowed to leave the Andean region, he doesn’t have to worry about prosecution from the U.S.
Nevertheless, Assange faces a great challenge in securing safe passage to Ecuador without possible arrest in London.