BY NEAL BAKER
Any story that centres around an international diplomatic dispute is bound to be riddled with complexity and confusion, but as far as this rule-of-thumb goes, the case surrounding the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has this week been granted political asylum from Ecuador in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden by the United Kingdom, is a particularly convoluted example. It’s a case of such intricacy that, when all sides and players are considered, it should allow for no black and white, no right or wrong, and no easy answer with which to make one’s mind up and lend one’s whole-hearted support. It’s interesting then that so many devotees of the Assange cause have lined the streets outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past week or so, with their minds made-up and their hearts whole. This can only allow for two explanations; ignorance or intentional avoidance of the facts, and I’m afraid it’s more likely to be the latter. Inconvenient truths are being ducked by those so vocal and clear-cut in their support of Mr. Assange, and these I shall briefly relay here.
Firstly, we must ask ourselves, “Why Ecuador?” It is almost comical that this small South American state stands at the centre of this international political dispute. Almost comical because of the fact that Ecuador, with its poor human-rights record and imbedded tradition of political corruption, is lending its support to a man whose life’s work has been to address and expose such problems. Renard Sexton, commenting in The Guardian on Friday, explained the Ecuadorian President’s eagerness to support Assange in the light of the upcoming presidential election within the country, saying that “the Julian Assange case… has been used to great political effect by President Correa to redirect the nation’s focus from the presidential campaign to a riveting legal and diplomatic affair of international significance.” This is then combined with anti-colonial and anti-imperialist rhetoric from Correa and his South-American allies in response to the United Kingdom’s ill-considered but relatively tame semi-threat to remove diplomatic protection from the Ecuadorian embassy, all in order to improve his image as a man who stands for Ecuador and South America against foreign ‘bullies’, bolstering his position and helping to safe-guard his presidency.
Secondly, the actual charges against Assange must be held at the forefront of this case. The allegations of rape by two separate Swedish women should not be taken lightly. For Assange to use the fear of persecution by the U.S – who haven’t even made any formal diplomatic move for him to be extradited there – in order to avoid facing his charges in Sweden is incongruous on his part, and is purposely being played into the hands of those who innately distrust America for other, possibly better reasons, thus harbouring their support.
It is important to distinguish the man from his work. WikiLeaks has and will continue to be an important tool for fighting corruption and highlighting injustice, standing as a reminder to those in power that they are not invincible. But we must measure its founder by the same rule. We must call for him to be tried fairly in Sweden, and only after then will his fight to avoid removal to the United States be able to be viewed in black and white.