Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and the Ecuadorian embassy: a recap (Wired UK)


Jeff Fecke/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0


Julian Assange held a press conference this morning from the
Ecuadorian embassy in London. In it, he announced that he was planning to leave the building he’s been holed up in for
two years “soon”. Wired.co.uk has created a quick recap of why
Assange sought political asylum in Ecuador in the first place, what
he’s been doing in the embassy, and what will happen when he
leaves.

Who is Julian Assange?

Julian Assange is the Australian activist and editor-in-chief of
the website Wikileaks, which he co-founded in 2006. Wikileaks was
set up to publish news leaks and classified information from
anonymous sources. Some of the leaks became major headlines
throughout the world, including a video showing a US helicopter
attack in Iraq that killed two Reuters journalists, secret military
reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thousands of US diplomatic
cables
revealing sensitive information about foreign leaders
and assessments of security threats.

Why is Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in
London?


Because he was formally granted asylum in Ecuador. According to
the Vienna Convention, although embassies are the sovereign
territory of the country in which they are located [in this case,
the United Kingdom], the local government agrees not to enter the
embassy and there is diplomatic immunity protecting those working
inside. Police cannot enter the embassy without the Ambassador’s
permission.

Why does Assange need asylum in the first
place?


Because a Swedish court wants him extradited so he can answer
questions about allegations made against him of rape and sexual
molestation. In 2010, a European arrest warrant was issued, and
Assange was taken into custody by British police. He was granted
bail by the High Court, which required him to stay at his bail
address between 10pm and 8am every night. After a lengthy legal
battle involving multiple appeals to prevent the extradition,
Assange ran out of options and applied for political asylum in
Ecuador, fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012.

Assange sought political asylum because he fears that if he goes
back to Sweden to answer questions about this case, he’ll be at
risk of being extradited to the USA where he could face charges of
espionage. However, as it stands, the US hasn’t made an extradition
request, so he’s not technically wanted for political crimes.

Why Ecuador?

Because the country has a loophole in its extradition agreement
with the United States which means that people wanted for offences
of “a political character” can dodge extradition.

What has Assange been doing in the embassy for two
years?


He lives in a small room with a treadmill, a natural light lamp
and a computer with internet connection. He’s kept himself busy by
writing a book, launching his candidacy for his seat in the
Australian senate, communicating with other Wikileaks team members,
lawyers, friends and supporters, and conducting interviews with the
media. He occasionally gives press conferences from a small balcony
in the embassy. Stranger activities have included trying to get Benedict Cumberbatch to change his mind about playing the
Wikileaks founder in The Fifth Estate
, working out with Eric Cantona and modeling in London Fashion Week

So will Assange not answer questions relating to the
Swedish case?


He has said he’ll go to Sweden if he’s given a legal guarantee
that he won’t be turned over to the US. But Sweden cannot provide
such a guarantee under its own or international law.

Could the UK not extradite Assange to the
USA?


Yes. In fact it would probably be easier to do so — any
extradition from Sweden would require the consent of the UK anyway.
Were the US to make an extradition request while Assange was in
custody, there’s no reason to think it would not comply, as the UK has already done with other high-profile cases such as that
involving hacker Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer.

Why is he choosing to leave now?

We don’t know. Some have speculated it’s due to ill-health:
Assange has reportedly developed an irregular heartbeat, a chronic
lung condition and high blood pressure. However, in the press
conference this morning, he said that this “probably” wasn’t why he
was about to leave.

What will happen when he leaves?

He’ll almost certainly be arrested by the British police who have
been stationed outside the embassy since he sought asylum. He will
then most likely be extradited to Sweden to be questioned over the
allegations of rape and sexual assault in a Swedish court.

Will he then be extradited to the US?

The US has not yet made an extradition request, but if it did, the
case would be dealt with by an independent Swedish court. Sweden
doesn’t allow extradition when the offence is purely military or
political, so the USA would have to charge him with a non-political
crime (i.e. not espionage). Even if this was the case, if the court
suspected that he’d face the death penalty then, under the European
Court of Human Rights law, Sweden would not extradite him

What happens if he manages to avoid arrest by the
British police?


If he somehow manages to get into a diplomatic car and head to an
airport, he’s very likely to be stopped. UK police can’t actually
enter the diplomatic vehicle, but they can stop it and play a
waiting game. Should he make it to an airport, he’d still have to
go through security, where he could be detained. It’s highly
unlikely that he’d make it to a car without being arrested,
though.

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18 August 2014 | 1:15 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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