In London, the Olympic village may have pulled up stakes, but the circus surrounding Julian Assange looks bound for the long haul. As you may have read, Ecuador has granted asylum to the embattled Wikileaks founder, who is wanted by British authorities for extradition to Sweden, where he awaits sexual assault charges.
Assange has been holed up in the modest stucco-fronted, red brick building in the exclusive Knightsbridge area since June 19th. His lawyer dismissed allegations of rape and assault as “consensual sex.” Assange has repeatedly claimed he’s been incriminated as part of a “smear campaign” against him and the Wikileaks brand. The two women he’s accused of abusing tell a very different story.
Ecuador’s decision to grant diplomatic sanctuary was celebrated by his supporters, but did not dissuade the British Foreign Office from its plans to execute its obligation to Sweden – which demands extradition of the Wikileaker to the legal climes of the Scandinavian Peninsula.
Per the Christian Science Monitor, Ecuador’s proposal of political asylum speaks to its current government’s “not so warm relations with Washington.” That’s putting it mildly.
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño has been most vocal on Assange’s behalf, stating his belief that Assange faces threat of “political persecution.” If I had to take a wild guess, I’d suppose that’s ambassadorial doublespeak for “a hasty extradition to the United States to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, undoubtedly absent due process or fair trial.”
According to a report in the WaPo, Patiño told a gaggle of reporters in Quito, “It is not impossible that he would be treated in a cruel manner, condemned to life in prison, or even given the death penalty […] Ecuador is convinced that his procedural rights have been violated.” One presumes he’s not talking about Sweden.
As if things weren’t already interesting enough, the Post reports that:
“Ecuadoran officials revealed Wednesday night that they had received a written warning from Britain saying that British police could enter the Ecuadoran Embassy to arrest Assange under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act, a little-known piece of legislation passed in 1987.”
The letter reportedly reads:
“You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the embassy. We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange’s presence in your premises, this is an open option for us.”
Naturally, Patiño portrayed this caveat as “a threat by the United Kingdom…that they could storm our embassy in London if Ecuador refuses to hand in Julian Assange,” before channeling protocols of the Vienna Convention and Britain’s colonial legacy.
I care not for Mr. Assange, his contrived iconoclasty or his distaste for my country. I can only “armchair analyze” a man whose narcissism hints at the underlying sociopathy necessary to force oneself on a woman, nearly half one’s age.
However, to quote the UK’s former ambassador to Russia, Tony Brenton:
“If we live in a world where governments can arbitrarily revoke immunity and go into embassies then the life of our diplomats and their ability to conduct normal business in places like Moscow where I was and North Korea becomes close to impossible.”
I imagine this opinion won’t be popular, but as unpleasant as Assange may be, neither his criminal trial nor incarceration remotely merit a potential collapse of consular order. Nor should he be afforded the outpouring of misplaced support his diplomatic martyrdom would undoubtedly earn him from opponents of America and Great Britain.
Rather, I must hope the Brits decide to wait him out, and barring that, he exhausts the years, confined to his ornate cell…his personal Tower of London.