Credible reports suggest that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is about to be thrown to the wolves. Ecuador, the country that has fought hard on his behalf for so long, is set to show him the door. As soon as he steps out he will be arrested by British police when extradition to the US will loom large. Dozens of protests were held around the world in June calling for his release and large demonstrations are planned in the event of his imminent eviction, though, sad to say, people power will not prevail against the big guns pointing in his direction.
Lest we forget this Australian-born computer programmer turned investigative journalist has not been charged with any crime. He has been vilified merely for doing his job, exposing secrets, including war crimes, that powerful governments wanted kept hidden from public view, just as newspapers in democratic countries are committed to doing.
He is the messenger the US in particular would love to shoot due to his exposure of torture and the murder of civilians committed by military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to John Pilger, citing documents released by Edward Snowden, Assange is on Washington’s “manhunt target list.”
Fear of being extradited to the United States where he has been investigated by various intelligence arms of government as well as a federal grand jury for espionage, caused him to jump bail in the UK to avoid extradition to Sweden ostensibly to be interviewed by prosecutors alleging sexual molestation. He suspected that Sweden and the UK were conspiring with their ally the US on a pretext designed to secure his permanent silence inside an American penitentiary.
Today, Assange’s concerns of being gift-wrapped to the US are more grounded than ever. Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russia, has indicted WikiLeaks for disseminating Democratic emails obtained by Russian hackers. WikiLeaks has vehemently refuted that charge, saying the emails were not obtained from Russia or any other state party.
The former government of Ecuador headed by President Rafael Correa accepted his request of political asylum in June 2012 and gave him sanctuary on the grounds that “as a consequence of Assange’s defence of freedom of expression and freedom of the press . . . a situation may come where his life, safety or personal integrity will be in danger.”
Since then this Australian-Ecuadorean dual-national has been a virtual prisoner living in a small office space without access to natural light or exercise, an existence that has been severely detrimental to his health and mental well being as confirmed by his lawyers who assert his health is being irreparably damaged.
Despite various precedents when Swedish officials conducted such interviews abroad, in this instance, they refused to do so until November 2016. Sweden also refused to guarantee that he would not face extradition to the US but finally closed the book on its investigation last year when hopes were raised that the UK would allow Assange to walk, only to be dashed.
Ecuador has long appealed to the British government to allow him freedom of travel on health grounds to no avail. It is surely ironic that a country that is willing to rehabilitate returnee fighters with links to terrorist groups relentlessly punishes a journalist who did nothing more than breaking bail on a charge that is now defunct.
Moreover, the House of Commons has amended the Extradition Act to ensure that only individuals that have been charged rather than merely wanted for questioning are candidates for extradition but that amendment in the law is not retrospective.
Assange incarcerated himself in a lonely space and has paid a terrible price, so it is hard to reason why the UK government has taken such a hard line unless it has plans to be implemented on behalf of a foreign country with which it claims a special relationship and is eager to forge a trade deal.
Unfortunately for him, Ecuador’s current president, Lenin Moreno, is eager to get into Washington’s good books and is unwilling to adopt his predecessor’s mantle as Assange’s protector. In March, the Moreno government decided to keep him incommunicado without access to the Internet or visitors.
Moreno has admitted he does not agree with what Assange does and complains he has inherited a problem. He says he is negotiating with the British government to obtain assurances that Assange’s life will not be placed in danger.
The UK does have the option of taking the moral high ground with assurances that he will not be extradited. Australia and Ecuador could register objections on behalf of their own citizen. However, given that all three countries are bent on currying favour with the Trump administration to further their own interests, I won’t hold my breath.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.