These are interesting times for Julian Assange. The 41-year-old Wikileaks founder is currently hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy, wanted by two nations and hounded by another. The US government has been trying to get hold of him after he showed, in 2010, footage of US soldiers shooting dead 18 Iraqi civilians. Most embarrassing! The Swedish authorities, meanwhile, want to question him regarding accusations of rape and sexual molestation made by two women. He has been granted political asylum in Ecuador, but cannot get there because the UK has denied him safe passage out of the country. And so, the British authorities circle him like hungry wolves, while cyberspace buzzes with opinions on the issue. To some, Assange is a hero and champion of free speech. To others, he is a sexual predator, a terrorist, or both. Who’s right?
I can see why the Obama administration wants to collar him: he’s exposed, through his website, a great deal of corruption at the heart of American politics and embarrassed a lot of powerful men. They want him silenced before he can release any more information that might make them uncomfortable. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, refuses to hand him over. Is the Ecuadorian government now defending freedom of expression? It seems odd that Correa should do so: back in May, his administration came under criticism from the UN (in the Universal Periodic Review) regarding the deterioration of press freedom, citing reports on the persecution of journalists and legislation criminalising speech. According to Delphine Halgand of Reporters Sans Frontières, seventeen media outlets have been closed down by the Correa government. Restrictions on editorial liberty extend to the Internet, moreover, where the government can invoke emergency powers to suppress any opinions deemed unacceptable. Yet here they are, protecting an individual who is no stranger to controversy and whose views on freedom of expression are absolute. Is this an image makeover for Ecuador? Or is Correa merely holding up a giant middle finger to the United States? Is this a gesture designed to curry favour with Hugo Chavez and his ilk, perhaps with a view to forge new trade ties? Perhaps, but the USA remains one of Ecuador’s primary trading partners and neither country benefits from this souring of relations.
Both Assange and the Ecuadorians are concerned that if he is sent to Sweden, he may then be passed on to the US authorities to face their wrath. Assange allegedly committed sexual assault against two women in Stockholm in 2010 and the UK government is under obligation, on account of the Extradition Act, to send him to Sweden. I get the impression that Foreign Secretary William Hague wants nothing more than to pass the Australian on to someone else and wash his hands of the whole situation, which is completely understandable. This is, after all, an expensive diplomatic headache. But what other motivations are at play? Is the US once again assuming the role of puppet master, applying pressure on Cameron’s government to drag Assange out of the embassy?
I am deeply sceptical of these sexual assault accusations. For a start, they came but a month after Wikileaks published 75,000 secret military documents on the war in Afghanistan. Whether this was right or wrong, the rape and molestation charges seem all too convenient. It is generally agreed that Assange had consensual sex with the two accusers, but the women claimed that they changed their mind during coitus. Is that all it takes, under Swedish law, for a bit of fun to become a serious crime? Mere whimsy on a woman’s part? Oh, Sweden, how did it ever come to this? You once sent your people across the globe, spreading your superior genes and leaving beautiful children in your wake. You were once the powerhouse of the Baltic, the terror of Poles, Russians and Germans alike. You make excellent weapons and have some of the best-trained soldiers in the world. Why, then, did you ever listen to the man-hating feminists? Why did you allow such stringent laws to be passed? I can only imagine how bitter and short-changed Swedish men must feel.
Over in my neck of the woods, the bra-burning hags and their socialist allies are tying themselves in knots over this issue. Their natural inclination, whenever a man is accused of a sex crime, is to demand his head and testicles be served on a platter with a side order of tofu (perhaps the only time these moral crusaders will ever sanction the death penalty). In their warped view, a man is guilty until proven innocent. However, if Assange does face Swedish ‘justice’, there is a concern that he may then endure torture or worse at the hands of the CIA. The Guardianistas are thus torn between supporting a potential sexual predator or a violation of human rights. I would like to make it clear that witnessing their turmoil is the only joy I get out of this very serious and complex case.
Whether Julian Assange committed the assaults or not (and I remain unconvinced that he did), the Wikileaks scandal has made him, in the eyes of many, a poster boy for freedom of expression, even though he does somewhat resemble a Bond villain. He has a great deal of support globally and I am concerned that his arrest would set a disturbing precedent. The British government must tread carefully and avoid giving people the impression that we are the ‘bad guy’ in this. By invoking (or indeed abusing) the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act, the Foreign Office would bring widespread opprobrium upon our great nation, not only from Ecuador but many other countries as well. This is an embassy we’re dealing with, not a gypsy caravan site. I say, let the man go.
Incidentally, there have been protests outside the British embassy in Quito, but I wonder if they truly reflect public opinion, or are in fact a government-sponsored stunt. Have a look at this fellow:
He may look like a farmer, but I suspect he’s a government crony hired to stir up anti-British feeling among the populace. Here he is again, this time with foreign minister Ricardo Patino:
This chap gets around, doesn’t he? I hope that the British government exercises caution in this affair and that the Ecuadorian people don’t develop an ‘us and them’ mentality. After all, we have enough enemies in this world.