by Sally Burch

The fence is tightened around the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, who is still on asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador in London. International persecution is growing and his rights are being curtailed.

In mid-November, it was leaked (apparently involuntarily) that there is indeed a summary accusation against Assange in the United States, the nature of which has not yet been disclosed. On Tuesday, November 27, a U.S. federal judge postponed a decision, requested by the Committee of Reporters for Freedom of the Press, to order the disclosure of the content of the indictment once it is confirmed that it exists. The Justice Department, for its part, defends keeping it secret until the accused is arrested.

In the meantime, the British authorities maintain their intention to arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy for violating his probation when he entered the embassy six years ago (despite the fact that Sweden’s judicial investigation has expired and no charges have been filed). Most likely, if this happens, the U.S. will request his extradition. These facts reinforce the arguments of Assange and his legal team that he runs the risk of a trial in the US, which could carry the death penalty. That is the main reason for maintaining asylum.

It is difficult for the US to prosecute the journalist/editor for the publication of thousands of confidential documents, as it would imply an attack on the freedom of the press. What’s more, they would also have to accuse the big media that replied to the information. It is worth remembering that Wikileaks is a portal where documents delivered by those who in English are called “whistleblowers” are published, that is, whistleblowers who reveal irregularities in the institutions where they work, for considerations of public interest. Wikileaks verifies the origin of the documents, but protects the identity of the complainant. For the same reason, Assange is not, as he is sometimes called, a “hacker” (in the sense of someone who violates the security of electronic equipment without authorization[1]), but the director of a publishing house.

For this reason, the US rather tries to link it to espionage, but this would imply showing that he works for some other government. There are now indications that he is being accused of collusion with Russia, in the case currently under investigation of the possible involvement of Russian intelligence services in the theft of emails from the Democratic Party, which were later published by Wikileaks during the last presidential campaign, a fact that may have favoured the candidacy of Donald Trump. Wikileaks has denied any link to the Russians in the case.

Beyond the details of the indictment, what is clear is that the governments concerned do not forgive Wikileaks for having disclosed their confidential documents. Much less do they want to acknowledge that Wikileaks has done humanity a great service by bringing to light issues on which governments should be held accountable, especially when the use of public funds is at stake.

Ecuador under pressure

Meanwhile, the situation of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he has been practically incommunicado for six months, is increasingly unsustainable; everything indicates that this is exactly what Lenin Moreno’s government is looking for, which considers him an unwanted guest and an uncomfortable inheritance from the previous government. Last July, the Inter-American Court ratified that Ecuador has the obligation, not only to guarantee asylum, but also to adopt positive measures so that the asylum seeker is not surrendered, which undoubtedly stopped the intention of expelling him from the embassy. Since October, a protocol of “rules of coexistence” has been imposed on him that violate his basic rights and freedom of expression. It is also noteworthy that on November 21, by presidential decree, the acting ambassador, Carlos Antonio Abad Ortiz, was dismissed before the normal deadline; all embassy personnel have also been changed. And from December onwards, the asylum seeker must cover his own food and communication expenses. Everything indicates that, not being able to expel him, they want to make his life so difficult to force him to leave the embassy, either by his own will or because of a breakdown in his health (which is already quite delicate due to the confinement and the lack of access to adequate medical care).

It is no coincidence that the government of Ecuador, which in the international arena has come to prioritize relations of cooperation and trade agreements with the United States and the United Kingdom, is subject to multiple pressures to rescind the asylum of Julian Assange. When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Quito last June, he discussed the issue with President Moreno at the behest of several senators, mainly from the Democratic Party. While Moreno denied that the Assange issue had been addressed, the White House confirmed this and noted that they agreed to remain in close coordination for the next steps. Should we understand that the current pressures on Assange are part of these “steps”?

Ecuador stood out on the world stage for having granted asylum to Julian Assange, defying pressure from world powers. It was even the current government that gave him citizenship a year ago. It seems that this is behind us, and that, at this point, only a strong international campaign in defense of the rights of Julian Assange and Wikileaks could prevent a fateful outcome.

About the author

Sally Burch, a British-Ecuadorian journalist, is executive director of the Latin American Information Agency (ALAI). Twitter @SallyBurchEc

1] It is worth noting that for the hacker movement, the term refers more to computer expertise.

Translated from Spanish by Pressenza London