By Prof Marcello Ferrada de Noli.
The Indicter’s Editor-in-Chief.
This article resumes the opinion of several human rights activists, academics and lawyers –as appeared in a recent report published by Izvestia, a leading Russian newspaper– concerning declarations by the Ecuadorian presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso threatening with the eviction of political refugee Julian Assange from the embassy in London.
One prominent confusion concerning the Assange case, and that the Western media has contributed to spread, concerns the whereabouts of the Ecuadorian asylum of Julian Assange –the so called asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador”. The first aspect that should be clarified, is that Mr Assange was granted political asylum in Ecuador, by the Ecuadorian legal system –meaning the legal institutions investing the authorities with such decision-making. The decision of his asylum has not been taken at consular or embassy level, and not been granted to Mr Assange on other reasons, such as humanitarian ones. The issue is not ‘administrative’, as viewed or practised in some European countries, but outmost political. This distinction is important in the context of Lasso’s declarations arguing on the “cost”of the Assange’s asylum weighed vs. “needs of the Ecuadorian people”.
Secondly, this political asylum of Julian Assange was given to him after a careful study of his case by the authorities in Ecuador. The process took months; it was not a matter of days or weeks. It should be remembered that in that period Julian Assange had received only a temporary permit to stay at the Embassy premises.
Incidentally, the information given today by the New York Times about the timing and motive for the asylum of Assange is misleading. The New Your Times writes today:
“Mr. Assange moved into the embassy in Knightsbridge, one of the British capital’s most affluent neighborhoods, after accusations of rape in Sweden”. [my cursive]
At this point, in February 2017, The New York Times staff covering the Assange case is certainly aware that the “accusations of rape” were formulated by Swedish state enforcement officers, not by the women involved in the case. This item has been clarified by the the complainant women and ultimately recognized by the prosecutor of the case Ms Marianne Ny during her press conference of September 7, 2016. Now about the timing: “the accusations of rape” took place in 2010, but the even referred by NYT (“Mr. Assange moved into the embassy in Knightsbridge”) happened two years after, in 2012! Furthermore, NYT does not care to clarify that Mr Assange has not been charged of any crime, neither to mention the United Nations’ UNWGAD had twice ruled that the detention of Mr Julian Assange by Sweden is arbitrary and that he should be immediately released, and a compensation should be given to him.
Thirdly, the reasons for the political asylum to Mr Assange were clearly specified. And that included the assessment done by Ecuador of a serious risk for Assange to be extradited from Sweden to the US. There he would face imprisonment, or risk death, based on that military, political or enforcement authorities have considered the publicist endeavours of WikiLeaks detrimental for U.S. national security and/or strategic interests. As long those premises would continue to exist, so it does the rationale for the WikiLeaks founder’s political asylum.
Likewise, when the political asylum was granted, and its reasons clearly stipulated, in no fashion this asylum was conditioned in terms of time or events, neither it was restricted to a specific deadline to be honoured by Mr Assange, personally. The underlying premise (the ‘variable’) for a change in the asylum status was instead something to be expected from Sweden. It is about the responsibility that Sweden is supposed to assume in terms of either a) to decide an ending of the so-called ‘legal case’ by concluding the prosecutor’s pre-investigation, or b) to issue guarantees on that Julian Assange would not be extradited to the U.S.
Sweden instead has for the most part stalled the ‘legal case’, and also consistently refused of issue guarantees of no-extradition.
Against the above-described backdrop, added the context of his presidential-campaign profiling, one of the candidates to the post of Ecuador’s president, the right-winger Guillermo Lasso, launched in the middle of the election campaign a manoeuvre consisting in announcing the eviction of Julian Assange from the London embassy premises in case he would be the one elected.
The Russian newspaper Izvestia published yesterday (February 16, 2017) a report by Anna Khalitova [Анна Халитова, picture at right] about the situation of Julian Assange in regard to those declarations formulated by the said Ecuadorian presidential candidate.
The report is based on Izvestia’s own research on the case, and on statements done by Lawyer Melinda Taylor –from the Julian Assange’s legal team–, the Russian lawyer and professor Anatoly Kucherena, the author and film-maker John Pilger, British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, and I, in my capacity of Swedish Professors & Doctors for Humans Rights chairman.
Melinda Taylor clarified that the asylum of Assange was granted in 2012 after that his case was examined by Ecuador, reviewed which concluded that Julian Assange’s situation met all the criteria stipulated by legal conventions (on political asylum), including the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951. Thus, a termination of the asylum of Assange in the terms expressed by Laslo would constitute a violation of international agreements from the part of Ecuador.
The Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena developed in the Izvestia report two particularly interesting items. One is that Julian Assange would be eligible for political asylum in Russia. The other item is that the Russian authorities would be able to, according to the legislation, to give Assange residence permit and also citizenship. It should be reminded that Mr Kucherena is also Dr in Law and professor, with a PhD thesis in the field of human and civil rights. He has represented the legal interests of Edward Snowden in Russia, and he is also First Vice President of the Federal Union of Lawyers of Russia. Therefore his opinion is to be regarded as qualified in this matter.
John Pilger, whom the Izvestia report describes as “active supporter of Julian Assange, a public figure and human rights activist”, considers that a decision of that kind (the termination of the political asylum of Assange) “would be a betrayal on the part of Ecuador.” Pilger said:
“(Julian Assange’s) asylum was granted in the framework of the UN Convention. The status of refugee gives Assange a legitimate right to be protected from those who can not wait to get it into their own hands”.
The British rights activist Peter Tatchell also concur with Melinda Taylor in terms of the infringement that such a measure would signify agaisnt both Ecuadorian and international legislation.
Izvestia’s journalist Anna Khalitova [photo at right] asked also for my opinion, which I formulated to her in the following terms; here in brief:
What Guillermo Lasso would do about Assange –or about any other issue– “when” in case he would be elected president of Ecuador is not only speculative from his part, by also unrealistic if we examine the Ecuadorian electoral panorama. In a most recent poll ended February 8, 2017, 102 sampled districts from 23 provinces of Ecuador gave Lenin Moreno a clear victory in in the coming presidential elections.
Of course any election-results may end with surprises not accounted for in the polls. Anyhow, Mr Lasso stance on kicking out Julian Assange from the Embassy in London is more a propaganda item devised to straighten support among the right-wingers, than a ‘plan’ with realistic outcome. There are several reasons explaining this difficulty, or impossibility:
Firstly, international treaties signed by Ecuador on political asylum would make Lasso’s initiative formally illegal.
Secondly, the political losses that the Ecuador government would stand in the Latin American forum would be enormous, in case its government decides to ‘terminate’ the practical terms of the asylum while the political reasons to grant it still remain valid. Ecuador would be accused of stabbing the legendary political-asylum principle in the back. I mean, the political-asylum tradition is very strong in Latin America, and even Ecuadorian politicians have been benefit from it in the past. Ecuador could not afford the political price of such a measure proposed by Guillermo Lasso.
Thirdly, in my opinion, the ultimate relevant in practical terms, is that the asylum of Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy is function of the legal situation pending about him and on the organization WikiLeaks in the U.S. The asylum was granted on the premise of an extradition-risk to the US. In other words, it is there, in the political scenario of the U.S. where the fate of the Assange asylum will be ultimately elucidated.
Furthermore, there are even more important geopolitical issues that converge in the decision-making of the Assange case, and thus, the need of continue the asylum at the Embassy in London. And this issues has to do with the current Sweden’s geopolitical situation after Trump won the presidential elections in the US. Sweden had counted with the US respecting the deals Sweden had performed with NATO during the last months of the Obama administration. Sweden also expected and favoured a Hillary Clinton’s victory, which is publicly preferred by the Swedish elites. But this was not the case, and the winner candidate, President Donald Trump, has declared NATO as an “obsolete” institution and nowadays Sweden’s elites are wondering what the Trump administration will signify in terms of Sweden’s strategic alliances. So, at this point, the Assange case will apparently serve Sweden as a negotiation card in the upcoming deliberations between the Trump administration and the Swedish government.
On the other hand, if Mr Guillermo Lasso would be so committed to respect international law as he presents himself, then he should start by asking Sweden and the UK the immediate freedom of Assange, as it was stipulated in the ruling by the United Nations Working Grouo on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD).