Ecuador Grants Asylum to Wikileaks’ Julian Assange

On Thursday, Ecuador’s foreign minister, Ricard Patino, announced that his government had granted diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange, who took refuge at Ecuador’s London embassy on June 19. President Rafael Correa explained in a radio interview that asylum was granted because Assange deserves due process, and Sweden had refused to give assurance that it would protect Assange from extradition to the US.  Assange has been battling U.K. extradition to Sweden to answer questions about allegations of sexual misconduct.

The announcement was good news to the more than 4,000 people who had signed petitions asking President Correa to grant asylum to the founder of Wikileaks. Robert Naiman, Director of Just Foreign policy, delivered the petitions on June 25 to the Embassy of Ecuador in London.  Signers included Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Coleen Rowley, Danny Glover, Glenn Greenwald, Michael Moore and others (including this writer).

The petition pointed out that “the Washington Post has reported that the U.S. Justice Department and Pentagon conducted a criminal investigation” of Assange,” and documents released by Wikileaks indicate  that “the U.S. government has already prepared an indictment and is waiting for the opportunity to extradite Assange from Sweden.” If he were to be “charged, and found guilty under the Espionage Act, Assange could face the death penalty.” Moreover, Assange would likely be tortured similar to Bradley Manning.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said in a statement, “The U.K. does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum. But, Russian officials pointed out that the British have “given refuge to ‘dozens of people suspected of committing grave crimes’ who are wanted in other countries.”
Meanwhile, the Organization of American States has scheduled emergency talks in Washington, D.C., to discuss the showdown between Ecuador and the U.K.  A State Department official said “The U.S. not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law.” But, like their British counterparts, U.S. authorities appear to have short memories.  Earlier this year, the U.S. embassy in Beijing gave refuge to Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese activist who had been under house arrest, and arranged for him to come to the U.S.  In 1989, the U.S. embassy gave refuge to another Chinese dissident, Fang Lizhi, who stayed there with his family for nearly a year before leaving for the U.S.

British and US authorities may not formally embrace “diplomatic immunity,” but they are well-practiced in applying the concept.  Trying to reserve that privilege for themselves will be unhelpful to international relations.

Photo by chrisjohnbeckett at Flickr Creative Commons