Julian Assange: What Next?

(Posted on 16/08/12)

Editors note: Moments before going to press, Ecuador granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum. This decision all but puts into place a standoff with the U.K. that has vowed to extradite the Australian anti-secrecy advocate to Sweden over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino released a statement that read, in part, "Ecuador’s government, faithful to its tradition of protecting those who seek protection in its territory, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum. The evidence backs up Julian Assange’s fears that he is a victim of political persecution as a result of his determined defense for freedom of expression and a free press."

Julian Assange has never really been out of the news, but of late, he's making the headlines again. He's managed to drive a wedge between the UK and Ecuador to the point of enraging Ecuador's foreign minister and promises of dangerous precedents that would draw "appropriate responses according to international law".

The latest brouhaha has to do with Assange's efforts to gain asylum in Ecuador and the decision from Ecuador's president Rafael Correa on whether he will extend it. That decision is but hours away. Assange has done his best to avoid extradition to Sweden to stand trial for sexual assault and he's also continuing to do his level best to avoid American soil, as well.

Perceived Threats

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister of Ecuador, Ricardo Patino, found himself quite upset over what he calls "perceived threats" from the UK to storm the embassy. It was then he promised the "appropriate responses" according to international law. Many may recall the sudden arrival by Julian Assange to Ecuador with hopes of hiding out to avoid his growing legal and criminal problems.

During Wednesday's presser, Patino read from a letter he said was from an embassy leader in Britain. It read, in part, "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." This upset the foreign minister and the more he read, the more angry he became. He continued with what's believed is verbatim text, "We reiterate continued use of diplomatic premises in this manner incompatible with the Vienna convention". He then said the letter "made clear" the many implications of the repercussions and diplomatic relations.

He said he was shocked by the verbiage, but also added his government was considering Assange's request, despite what he called a potential "attack on our embassy in London". Even as the Foreign Office was attempting to smooth things over and said Britain had "merely sought to clarify its position", Patino continued his dramatic speeches and said a decision would be made on Thursday.

Obligation to Extradite

The UK stands firm. "We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the government of Ecuador. The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation. We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture."

It's unclear how the U.S. will ever get Assange to American soil to answer to accusations that his company, WikiLeaks, released public U.S. cables that could have put the nation's military in significant danger. There are fears he would face the death penalty in the U.S. if he's ever tried and convicted. The U.S. has patiently been waiting in the sidelines in order to allow the sexual assault case to come full circle. There aren't any clear signs that the U.S. will make its move at this time though.

For now, a spokesperson for the UK says, "We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution."

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