WASHINGTON, August 16, 2012 — Julian Assange, founder and guiding spirit of the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks, has been granted asylum by Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, sparking a tense diplomatic stand-off between Ecuador and the West.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño explained the government’s decision to media. “The Ecuador government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us at our diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr. Assange,” he said.
In response to Correa’s decision, the U.K. expressed “disappointment” before privately threatening to forcibly arrest Assange if he attempted to depart for Ecuador. The foreign minister promptly denounced threats to assault the Ecuadorian embassy. “Today we received a threat from the United Kingdom; a clear and written threat that they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange. We want to make it clear we are not a British colony and that the times of the colonies are over,” said Patiño.
This move is bold, but unsurprising. In 2011, State Department cables showed American ambassador Heather Hodges instigating unfounded rumors of high-level Ecuadorian corruption, angering Correa’s progressive administration. According to Correa, Hodges was approached with requests to validate her claims but refused, replying with “arrogance, an imperialistic attitude and insolence.”
After investigation, it was revealed that Hodges’ accusations were based on gossip from opposition groups. The U.S. ambassador was later expelled from Ecuador, joining other American diplomats removed from positions after the embarrassing leaks.
In an interview with Assange for the World Tomorrow series in May 2012, Correa expressed his support for the mission of exposing America’s dedication to secrecy and consistent incitement of political tensions.
“I lived in America for four years and have two academic degrees from universities. I love and admire the American people a great deal. The last thing I would be is anti-American, however I will always call a spade a spade and if there are international policies detrimental to Latin America I will denounce them.
“We believe, my dear Julian, that the only things that should be protected against information sharing and freedom of speech are those set in the international treaties, in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights: the dignity and the reputation of people, and the safety of people and the State. The rest, the more people find out about it, the better,” he told Assange. “We have absolutely nothing to fear. Let them [Wikileaks] publish everything they have about the Ecuadorian government.”
Correa hopes the leaks will show the blatant corruption conducted with the American people’s resources without fear of retribution.
In an effort to silence Assange, the U.S. government has allegedly wielded its resources to censor Wikileaks’ social media footprint, suspend Assange’s bank accounts and finances, attack the website, and pressure corporations and foreign governments to deny the organization exposure. In response, the online community has donated in record numbers, created mirror websites, and held demonstrations in his defense.
Since 2009, pressure on the U.K. government to deliver Assange has increased. Though he has not been charged with a crime, he is wanted for questioning in Stockholm on unrelated charges filed after the first leak. It is customary for law enforcement to interrogate suspects in other nations, but Swedish officials have refused to visit the U.K., demanding physical extradition. Sources suspect this demand is a foil to capture Assange for the U.S. government.
Patiño clarified that Ecuador would allow Assange’s extradition to Sweden with guarantees that no eventual extradition to the United States would take place. Sweden refused to make such promises.
CIA analysts believe extradition to Sweden for questioning could result in international rendition, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial. The government of Ecuador agrees. “It is not impossible that he would be treated in a cruel manner, condemned to life in prison, or even the death penalty,” Patiño said.
In spite of Ecuador’s desire to protect Assange from persecution, the U.K. vows to arrest Assange if he attempts to depart. “Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal U.K. authorities are under binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorian Government’s decision this afternoon does not change that. We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act,” British foreign office said.
Though revoking Ecuador’s diplomatic status and storming the building is unlikely at this time, the Ecuadorian embassy is under constant media surveillance until the fate of Assange is negotiated. For now, Assange cannot exit the building, and Ecuadorian officials claim he will remain in the embassy indefinitely.
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