Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ecuador grants asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, but stalemate at London embassy continues

More saber rattling in Quito

*Updated Dec. 24, 2013*
Ecuador has formally granted diplomatic asylum to Australian citizen Julian Assange, but that hasn't ended a two month standoff at its embassy in Great Britain.

The announcement, made this morning in Quito by the country's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, is sure to increase tensions between the leftist government of president Rafael Correa and the United States, where many have called for Assange's criminal prosecution after embarrassing diplomatic disclosures by the international whistle blower organization Wikileaks. Assange is the publisher and chief editor of Wikileaks, which he founded in 2006.

In 2010 a Swedish court issued a European arrest warrant for Assange, 41, after two women claimed that he sexually assaulted them during a visit there. Assange was in England when the warrant was issued, and he was promptly detained and jailed. He posted bail and embarked on a two year effort to avoid extradition to Sweden, arguing that there was no basis to the criminal allegations and that the purpose and intent of the warrant was to eventually turn him over to U.S. authorities. Several levels of British courts rejected his claims, and ordered that Assange be surrendered by the U.K. government in accord with standard international procedures.

On June 19, with his legal options quickly running out, Assange appeared at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and requested political asylum. He's remained there ever since, while British authorities maintain a vigil outside. Under international law embassy property is regarded as foreign territory, and a host nation may not enter it for any reason - even to execute an arrest warrant.

In a press conference this morning Patiño said, "The government of Ecuador, true to its tradition of offering protection to those who seek it, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum." And in a defiant Twitter message president Correa told followers, "Nobody's going to intimidate us."

U.K. authorities have said that they would take Assange into custody if he attempted to leave the embassy grounds, but it's unclear if today's announcement by Ecuador will change that decision. Neither Assange nor the Ecuadorian government have announced whether he will remain in London indefinitely - a virtual prisoner in the embassy - or if Ecuador will demand his safe passage to Quito.

More than two years ago WikiLeaks - which publishes, online, information received from anonymous sources - began releasing classified cables sent to the State Department by 275 U.S. consulates, embassies, and diplomatic missions worldwide, between 1966 and Feb. 2010. Many of the 250,000 cables contain sensitive analyses of international situations, as well as diplomats' assessments of events and officials in the countries where they were based. The cables have embarrassed the United States, complicated its diplomatic relations with several countries and in some instances severely stressed old friendships. Nowhere is that more evident than in the arena of U.S.-Mexico affairs, where a former American ambassador was forced to resign last year over confidential comments he made to Washington about Mexico's anemic drug war efforts. The last WikiLeaks cables were released in Sept. 2011, but because of their size - over 260 million words - it may take years to analyze them all.

Supporters of Assange had lobbied hard in support of his petition for asylum, and his mother recently paid a visit to Ecuador, where she was warmly received by president Correa. Still, many were surprised the request was granted, and not a few were puzzled by the ruling.

A Latin America analyst told the Associated Press, "Ecuador's foreign policy is completely unpredictable, and doesn't reflect institutional maturity with respect to principles, rights, proceedings and internationally accepted norms. Ecuador's stance (in granting asylum to Assange) represents a significant breach in its relation with England and Sweden." But the analyst added that both nations had acted "under pressure from a third country, the United States."

Although many U.S. politicians have harshly condemned Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Justice Dept. is conducting a preliminary criminal investigation, not all agree that significant damage was done by the publication of confidential diplomatic cables. In Nov. 2010 former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates commented, "Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest."

Aug. 16 - The British Foreign Secretary said this evening that the U.K. will not give Assange safe passage to Ecuador, nor will they allow him to leave England. WikiLeaks founder Assange remains at Ecuador embassy. Supposedly the two countries are trying to hammer out a diplomatic resolution of the dispute, but I can't imagine president Correa backing down now. Assange may be in London for a long time . . . while his Spanish really improves.

Aug. 23 - President Rafael Correa says that Eucador would immediately sever diplomatic relations with Great Britain if the latter enters its London embassy to seize Assange.
Aug. 23 - Assange's Spanish attorney says he will carry the stalemated dispute to the International Criminal Court in The Hauge, with the demand that his client be guaranteed safe passage to Quito.

Dec. 24, 2013 - More than 18 months after he walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Julian Assange is still there. And that country's government says it remains committed to protecting him.

June 12 - U.S. diplomats troubled by Televisa-Peña Nieto links in 2009, Wikileaks cables say
Feb. 24 - Wikileaks suspect Pfc. Bradley Manning arraigned in first stage of full court martial
Jan 12 - Wikileaks suspect bound over for trial; will face general court martial this year
Dec. 18 - Did the man behind explosive Wikileaks disclosures really want to be a woman?
Nov. 12 - U.S. intensely focused on Yucatán security in 2008-2009, diplomatic cables reveal
July 22, 2011 - Mexican archbishop asked U.S. to help in derailing Manuel López Obrador's 2006 presidential bid, according to Wikileaks

1 comment:

  1. It's going to be fascinating to watch this play out over the next days and weeks. And you have to admire such a tiny country as Ecuador for standing up to the might of the 'west' regardless of where you stand on the Assange issue.