Assange was under house arrest and facing extradition to Sweden to stand trial for charges of sexual assault reportedly committed in 2010. Ecuadorian officials state they are evaluating the asylum request.
Assange’s newfound affinity for Ecuador and its populist, anti-American President Rafael Correa has certainly raised eyebrows. In recent years, Assange made himself the self-appointed vigilante for informational freedom, publishing massive troves of U.S. classified diplomatic documents, many illegally obtained with the assistance of Sergeant Bradley Manning. Correa, on the other hand, has continued to wage war on media freedom in his South America country.
As opposite as they are in principles, they share a similar sense of righteousness and visceral disdain for the U.S.
In the case of Assange, the idea that the charge of rape constitutes a political offense worthy of asylum is palpably ridiculous and a clear abuse of the entire concept of asylum. Assange’s lawyers are attempting to construct an alternative conspiracy theory by alleging that Assange is the victim of a well-orchestrated witch hunt and suggesting that Sweden’s justice system is working covertly to send Assange on to the U.S. for trial. Here Assange, they argue, will potentially face a lengthy prison sentence or the “death penalty.”
Both Assange and Correa want to turn thorny legal issues and questions of alleged criminal misbehavior into international political theater, something both excel at.
In Assange’s case, as in others, the right of asylum enjoys no universal international legal application. Even if Correa is unwise enough to grant Assange asylum, it does not automatically include a right of safe passage out of London to Ecuador. Absent British consent, Assange must next attempt to escape London in search of an airport or a port from which he can take passage to Ecuador. Eluding the British authorities and justice may be easier said than done.
In view of the harm inflicted upon U.S. diplomatic and security interests by WikiLeaks, Correa is once more demonstrating that he is no friend of the U.S. No stranger to conspiratorial paranoia, Correa is also aiding and abetting Assange’s wild conspiratorial theories.
A favorable decision for asylum for Assange would be ill-timed considering the fact that Ecuador’s eligibility for Andean Trade Preferences is currently under review by the U.S. Trade Representative and ultimately by the U.S. Congress. Granting asylum to Assange would neither win friends nor gain influence when the matter of extending trade benefits is discussed in the U.S.
It would be highly useful for the State Department, the chief victim of WikiLeaks, to play a little hardball of its own and remind the Correa government of this point as it ponders Assange’s asylum request.