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August 17, 2012, Friday

Ecuador shows courage

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s temporary residence in the Ecuadorian embassy in southwest London might well turn into a semi-permanent fixture, although neither he nor his hosts would really want that. Assange would most definitely prefer to be airborne en route to Quito and diplomatic personnel in Knightsbridge would certainly reject seeing their premises transformed into a hotel.

In general terms I have mixed feelings about the whole Assange saga. Yet if, given the benefit of the doubt, Wikileaks has serious concerns about the nature of how governments are run and interact with each other and sees itself as quasi-journalistic investigators bringing issues to the forefront which otherwise would have never ever seen the light of day Assange and his team may perhaps have a raison d’étre and thus we as society should defend his right to publish what he sees fit and hence welcome Ecuador’s asylum decision.

However, as he is of course a highly educated and intellectual person he must have known that if he went ahead with publishing “leaked” cables and documents, sooner rather than later his list of friends and supporters would perhaps grow but the number of enemies would skyrocket, too. If the latter includes the US administration (which is what many commentators say), sleepless nights are guaranteed.

Alternatively, was Wikileaks nothing more than a well calculated publicity stunt blown out of proportion, with Assange in the full knowledge that he risks not just his organization but perhaps his personal freedom, too, and thus assuming that some states would support and come to his rescue whereas others would add him to their most-wanted lists, all of which thus turned Wikileaks into a global force defending the people versus the governments, the “anti-Big Brother Big Brother,” so to speak?

As I wrote above, and to give the benefit of the doubt, let us focus on the abovementioned positive justification for Wikileaks’ efforts and ask whether Assange’s worries about being extradited to the US after having arrived in Stockholm are to be taken as real. It does not appear entirely improbable to me that as if by magic, the moment he is interviewed by a Swedish prosecutor about his alleged wrongdoings of a sexual nature, an extradition notice from Washington will arrive at the Stockholm courthouse and Assange will be taken captive. The outcome? At least a 50 percent chance (or seen from Assange’s perspective, danger) of his being extradited to the US!

I am not saying the Swedish justice system is inferior to the British; of course not. Yet hypothetically speaking, if ever an extradition notice arrives in Sweden, an unprecedented switch from sexual allegations to high politics may take place in an instant. It is once more not improbable that in this case Sweden would simply prefer to get rid of the case and have Washington deal with it instead of Sweden as a nation becoming Assange’s and thus Wikileaks’ agent and defender.

Yet as there is at least a theoretical danger zone wherein Assange, once extradited, could face the death penalty, our combined European justice systems must weigh the seriousness of the alleged personal misconduct along with a possible national security threat. There was a missed opportunity as Swedish prosecutors did not wish to ask questions whilst Assange was still living under bail conditions in England. Could he not have received an equally theoretical conviction by a Swedish court as he was a rather unique case?

I cannot get rid of my “media profession curiosity” -- my gut feeling that these two sexual assault charges by former Wikileaks staff although perhaps true nevertheless “surfaced” at a very convenient moment for Wikileaks foes. I am of course not challenging the Swedish legal system as the Swedish court had no choice but to react once the accusations were on the table. This is why I dare say an extradition request from Sweden to the US may “surface” at an equally convenient moment, too.

In a nutshell: As Ecuador after many weeks of reflecting has now granted Assange political asylum and considering that if a similar case ever arrives at a UK embassy -- yet, for example, in a country with political problems or, worse, rife with terror – and we can further assume that particular UK embassy would open its doors, too, I dare say we should let Assange leave.

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