Computer programmer and journalist Julian Assange has become in the past couple of years a worldwide icon and a face for truth and democracy as some of the posters hanging outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London indicate, a venue where he has been seeking refuge for two months so far.
On June 19, Assange walked into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London seeking refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over rape and sexual assault of two female ex-Wikileaks volunteers while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture in 2010.
Though Assange claims the sex was consensual and the allegations are politically motivated, a European Arrest Warrant was issued in this regard.
In May this year, Assange had lost his Supreme Court appeal in England to avoid extradition to Sweden and was not able to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg; this gave Assange only ten days to be extradited, which prompted his request for asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, on the grounds that he is persecuted. Political asylum was granted on August 16.
Assange is known for being the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, an international online organization, publishing classified and anonymous news leaks by whistleblowers and US State department diplomatic cables.
Assange says he fears that if extradited to Sweden, he will then be handed on to the American authorities: a declaration Ecuador finds credible while Sweden finds it rather insulting to its judicial system.
Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian President, announced that the sheer possibility that Assange could face capital punishment in the US, based on possible charges of leaking confidential Government information, is enough reason for his Government to grant asylum to the activist.
Though the asylum has been granted, the situation heats up over the logistical difficulties in getting Assange to the South American country; it seems that police in London would be within their rights to arrest him as soon as he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy’s premises.
The British Government seemingly ever more determined to extradite the international activist to Sweden, has now threatened to raid the embassy if they don’t hand him over.
In a statement released on August 15, the UK Foreign office stated,
‘We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the Government of Ecuador… The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation’.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague says Assange will not be granted safe passage to Ecuador.
The UK’s Foreign Office statement reminds the Ecuadorian Government that they could revoke the Consular Status of the premises at a week’s notice under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, allowing them to raid it to carry out the 41 year old Australian national activist’s extradition.
Ecuador reacted to this threat saying that any such action would be considered a violation of its sovereignty and a ‘hostile and intolerable act’.
Ricardo Patino, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister declared in a press conference, ‘Today we have received a clear written threat from the UK that they will raid our Embassy in London if Ecuador doesn’t hand over Julian Assange.
We want to be absolutely clear that we are not a British colony, the days of the British colonies are over’.
WikiLeaks posted on the same day a statement with regard to the overall situation stating:
‘By midnight, two hours prior to the time of this announcement, the embassy had been surrounded by police, in a menacing show of force. Any transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies worldwide. This threat is designed to preempt Ecuador’s imminent decision on whether it will grant Julian Assange political asylum, and to bully Ecuador into a decision that is agreeable to the United Kingdom and its allies. WikiLeaks condemns in the strongest possible terms the UK’s resort to intimidation. A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide. We draw attention to the fact that the United Nations General Assembly has unanimously declared in Resolution 2312 (1967) that "the grant of asylum… is a peaceful and humanitarian act and that, as such, it cannot be regarded as unfriendly by any other State." Pursuant to this resolution, a decision to grant asylum cannot be construed by another State as an unfriendly act. Neither can there be diplomatic consequences for granting asylum. We remind the public that these extraordinary actions are being taken to detain a man who has not been charged with any crime in any country. WikiLeaks joins the Government of Ecuador in urging the UK to resolve this situation according to peaceful norms of conduct.’
The public support to Julian Assange is overwhelming; there are various reactions on the ground, people gathered to protest in front of the British embassy in Ecuador and in London.
Online, twitter is crowded with hash tagged #Assange tweets. #tnAssange is the hash tag used in Tunisia. In response to the UK’s threat to raid the embassy, Nawaat, Tunisian leading collective blog tweeted:
Ecuador’s involvement in Assange’s case puts additional pressure on his situation. This is a case to be followed with interest involving each of Ecuador, Sweden and the UK where their diplomacies are manipulated by the hidden influence of the US.