Will WikiLeaks founder Assange go free?
Ecuador's government offered asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, on Thursday. But the British government will not allow him safe passage out of their country where he's been living in the Ecuadorian embassy for the past 60 days.
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While embassies are usually considered sovereign ground, the extent of that extraterritoriality is a matter of treaty, said David Abraham, who teaches immigration and citizenship law at the University of Miami.Skip to next paragraph
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“In some settings it would be conceivable that British authorities could rush the embassy to get him. . . . It’s conceivable but unlikely,” he said. “On the other hand, he can’t live there forever.”
As supporters chanted outside the embassy and waved banners in support of Assange, media outlets speculated how he might escape. Some said he might be smuggled out in an embassy car or a man-sized diplomatic pouch. One English legal expert said Ecuador’s best bet was to give Assange diplomatic immunity by naming him ambassador to the United Nations.
Lengthy embassy stays aren’t unheard of. Roman Catholic Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty lived in the U.S. embassy in Budapest for 15 years, until 1971, to escape a treason conviction.
WikiLeaks was launched in 2006 as a whistle-blowing website where documents could be posted anonymously. But the organization and its platinum-haired founder caught global attention in 2010 when they began releasing millions of confidential and secret U.S. State Department cables. “Cablegate” roiled Latin America and led Ecuador to eject U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges after she suggested in one of the communiques that President Correa was turning a blind eye to police corruption.
In a statement accepting Assange’s asylum request, Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry accused the United States of persecuting Assange “for releasing compromising information sensitive to the U.S. government.”
Assange has repeatedly said the Swedish allegations, including rape, are trumped-up and designed to silence him and his organization. His mother and supporters have said they fear he’ll be sent to the United States on a secret indictment where he could be tortured or executed for espionage. But no indictment or extradition request is known to exist.
In addition, Swedish law would likely prohibit the country from sending Assange to any nation where he would face capital punishment, Abraham said.
“All the European Union countries have rejected the death penalty,” he said. “But it’s possible for the U.S. to indict him on all sorts of things that don’t carry the death penalty.”
The crisis is likely to put a strain on UK-Latin America relations. The ALBA bloc of nations said there would be “serious consequences” if authorities attempted to detain Assange in the embassy.
Correa, who is likely to run for re-election in February, has called Assange a hero.
“No one is going to terrorize us!” the president wrote on Twitter shortly before the asylum announcement was made.
Correa and Assange have been friendly since at least May, when the WikiLeaks founder interviewed him for his television show "The World Tomorrow," which runs on Russian state television.
As the two men were signing off, Correa said that he and Assange were both being hounded by the United States.
“Cheer up, cheer up,” Correa said. “And welcome to the club of the persecuted.”