Julian Assange: Still Hiding in Ecuadorian Embassy After One Year
Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Julian Assange's flight to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, and the saga continues. Great Britain and Ecuador were unable to make any progress in negotiations about Assange.
Assange, the whistle-blower and owner of the controversial WikiLeaks web site, was granted political asylum from Ecuador and has been running the site for the last year from the embassy.
Here’s a quick recap of his story: Assange was first arrested in 2010 after accusations of sexual assault by two Swedish women. He was then freed on bail, given an electronic tag, and told to report to police everyday. Sweden filed a warrant for extradition to question Assange, and British courts upheld it. Assange and his followers believe that if he were extradited to Sweden, he would swiftly be extradited to the United States, where he would face espionage charges for his work with WikiLeaks. Assange appealed the decision as many times as possible before seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy last June.
By August 16, 2012 Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador's foreign minister, announced that the government would grant Assange asylum, saying that the country "recovered its dignity at an international level." That same day, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Great Britain would not give Assange safe passage out of the country.
British and Ecuadorian officials said on Monday that they had yet again failed to make any progress in advancing the situation. The British Foreign Office released a statement saying no substantive progress was made and all resolutions would need to be within the laws of the United Kingdom.
Choosing Ecuador was a great strategic move on Assange's part. The government, especially President Rafael Correa, shares Assange's distaste for American foreign policy. They, along with much of the world, see the United States as an empire that needs to be checked. International lawyer Robert Amsterdam explained the political benefits Assange provided for Ecuador. "From a Latin perspective, what a glorious thing to get Assange," he said. "You don't even have to be anti-American to do that."
Being trapped in the embassy has done little to slow Assange down. He has continued running WikiLeaks and this year has published many more documents, including intelligence records from the 1970s and millions of emails related to Syria. He also continues to broadcast his opinion on current events, such as the NSA scandal and the WikiLeaks Party in Australia via video link.
Assange's most viable option for change would be leaving the embassy for Ecuador, but getting him out is wrought with logistical obstacles. Five British officers are positioned outside the embassy at all times waiting to arrest Assange, who is in violation of British law for violating bail.
Leaving the embassy would likely result in diplomatic and criminal repercussions. Adam Issacson, a representative from the Regional Security Policy Program of human rights group Washington Office on Latin America, said "If Assange arrives in Ecuador, the first thing the Brits would probably do is remove their ambassador from Ecuador."
Jemima Kahn, editor of New Statesman and a part of the team behind the documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, wrote an interesting piece on Assange where she points out the effects his trial would have on the culture of information sharing.
"No charges have yet been filed, but I remain convinced that if Assange is prosecuted for espionage the future of investigative journalism everywhere would be in jeopardy," she said.
With no breakthrough in the diplomatic stalemate, Assange faces the choice between remaining safely in the embassy and an escape in private plane to Ecuador, which would likely be followed by political chaos putting his ability to manage WikiLeaks in jeopardy.
"Standing up for freedom may seem less important to Assange than saving himself right now," said Amsterdam.