Julian Assange, freedom-speaker, and freedom of speech poster child who founded WikiLeaks is in a tight spot. He’s ducked into the Ecuador Embassy seeking asylum in Ecuador, based on Ecuador President’s previous approval of him, but in doing so has violated the terms of his probation and thus is subject to arrest. In fact, Scotland Yard is waiting in the front yard, and if he comes out he’s toast.
How did it come to this? And why doesn’t Assange turn himself in? He fears extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on charges of rape against two Swedish women. Assange claims the charges are trumped up–a “political move,” he says — and though he thinks he would easily handle such a court case, he fears he will next be extradited to the United States.
The assurances that this was not the case, from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, seems entirely catlike. She claimed he was not being victimized:
“I don’t think he’s being persecuted because of his use of the Internet at all,” she stated with categorical singularity. Instead she says that we are “getting too enamored with the idea that Julian Assange is a whistleblower [and missing] the reality that confidentiality on the part of government is not all bad. In many cases it is used to protect people and that must be balanced along with the preference for free flow of information.” How the second half of her statement supported the first is unclear, since it seems that for America to “protect her people” from the likes of Assange, who is upsetting a necessary “balance” — things may not go so well for him.
Senior British Lawyer Alex Carlile doesn’t think Assange has much to bargain with at this point. “This is actually in law a very simple situation. Once the Ecuadorians have considered and rejected his application for asylum — as they will — he will be going to Sweden.”
It’s not so clear cut that Ecuador will make things just that simple. Anna Alban, Ecuador’s ambassador to the U.K. met with British officials Wednesday, saying that “The decision on Mr. Assange’s application would be assessed by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Quito and would take into account Ecuador’s long and well-established tradition in supporting human rights.”
Getting to an airplane and getting the hell out would still be a huge obstacle. Kathryn Cronin, a lawyer well studied in asylum and immigration cases, suggest that Assange might be using the asylum bid to negotiate a promise from Sweden that if he goes to Sweden to face his charges, he will not be re-extradited to the U.S. He fears a “secret indictment” he believes the U.S. has prepared against him for leaking tens of thousands of U.S. government cables.
“His concern is not so much the Swedish problem, but the prospect that Sweden might seek to remove him to the States,” said Cronin. “He may very well be using this arrangement as a mechanism to get some higher-level negotiations that will give him an opportunity to avoid American removal after Swedish investigations are completed.”
However it goes, Assange’s situation reads like any of the best-selling legal thrillers in the bookstores.