Julian Assange is one of the most unique political activists, journalists, publishers, editors or terrorists, depending on whom you ask. He is most widely known as the editor-in-chief of the infamous WikiLeaks organization that published hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables two years ago. The cables came from a long list of countries, but the most devastating documents stemmed from secret US military reports. These reports released an immense amount of information about US intelligence, including war crimes and complicity regarding terrible actions in Iraq, as well as evidence of corruption in various places around the world. The reports’ information also put many Americans at risk while operating overseas, requiring their immediate return to the US. Due to these documents, many have labeled Assange as one of two things; a symbolic voice against corruption for common people; or a high-tech terrorist.
Following the release of these documents, a case was filed against Mr. Assange in a Swedish court. He was accused of committing assault and rape against two former WikiLeaks volunteers in Stockholm, which he denied, stating the acts were consensual. Since the case against Assange began, he has spent 640 days under house arrest and ten days in prison. Most recently, he has resided in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for the past ten weeks. Mr. Assange was granted asylum in the embassy on Thursday, August 16, 2012. Since then, there has been a political standoff between Ecuador and the UK. This is just one of many large politically motivated decisions that have been taken in connection with Assange. As this situation has evolved, it has become clear that there are many different parties involved in this issue, and they all have their own motivations and intentions, whether benevolent or otherwise.
Assange first sought asylum in May after he lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden while on bail. He believes the sexual assault allegations are politically motivated, and fears that upon arriving in Sweden for questioning he would be extradited to the US to face punishment for his role in the unauthorized online publication of the US diplomatic cables. Needless to say, the release of these documents was an immense embarrassment for many countries, and none felt that sting as strongly as the US did. Regardless of being granted asylum, Assange has very little chance of leaving the embassy without being arrested in London.
The British government, since Assange is untouchable within the embasy, has asserted its right to enter the embassy to arrest Assange as allowed by the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987. This provoked harsh rebuke from Ecuadorian diplomats. In Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, the government stated that any such invasion of the embassy would be considered a violation of its sovereignty and a hostile and intolerable act. Ecuador proposed that the British and Swedish governments must agree to blocking all attempts at extraditing Assange to the US. Both London and Stockholm are resisting this suggestion, but perhaps such an agreement is not needed. As journalist David Allen Green has pointed out, although Assange’s extradition is possible, it would be very unlikely for Sweden or Britain to agree to extradite Assange if it could lead to torture or the death penalty.
Ecuador has received both scrutiny and praise for its actions. The Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino praised Assange as an enemy of the corrupt media and US imperialism., but the current Ecuadorean government has never been particularly respectful of journalistic integrity and freedom of speech. Carlos Lauria, senior Americas Program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, has pointed out that while President Rafael Correa has been on a pedestal denouncing the misdeeds of the US, UK, and other countries, his government has shut down eleven radio broadcasters since May alone, most of which were critical of the government. Although President Correa has made a bold stand for the right to freedom of the press in solidarity with WikiLeaks and Assange, his motivations are questionable.
The US, however, has maintained that they have absolutely no interest in Assange and this case. The US Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, refutes the allegations that the US would attempt to extradite the WikiLeaks founder from Sweden. Bleich declined to comment on investigations regarding Assange, but stated that the current situation is not the fault of the US. Bleich views WikiLeaks as a threat to diplomacy because of information degradation, the concept that obtaining correct information, from informants in any manner, in the future may become more difficult due to the possibility of that information being traced back to its source. Bleich is most concerned that the authenticity of information being gathered by intelligence agencies has been affected by WikiLeaks.
Regardless of diplomacy, Assange’s situation could be remedied if he were permitted to set the date, time, location, duration, manner and nature of questioning concerning his Swedish court case. This was made possible due to a precedent set by Smith v DPP and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police UKSC 666, a crucial case that passed through the Supreme Court in 2011. The case involved a man named Smith who dictated the logistics of his questioning by police, as he feared being arrested if he came in to a police station for questioning. As a result of this case any accused person who has breached bail conditions, much like Assange, and who is within England has the right to determine the logistical aspects of their questioning. Whether this case will be used by Assange to determine how, and more importantly where, he will be questioned awaits to be seen.
By the end of the Assange case, many laws and rights will surely be used and abused. For now, Assange remains safe within the Ecuadorean embassy, whilst London police cover every inch of its parameters.