Julian Assange, the notorious founder of Wikileaks, has been holed up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012. The Australian-born whistle-blower fled to the embassy seeking asylum after releasing controversial government information (provided by now-imprisoned Chelsea Manning) via Wikileaks in 2010, followed by allegations of sexual assault and rape out of Sweden.
According to Assange, extradition to Sweden to face the music for of Swedish sexual assault charges would likely result in extradition to America and possibly espionage (and other) charges. There is currently an arrest warrant for Julian Assange out of Sweden in connection with the sexual assault he is accused of committing in that country, and Assange faces immediate arrest if he ventures outside of the Ecuadorian Embassy into London proper.
Despite enjoying years of asylum at the embassy, NBC News reported that Julian Assange may be facing eviction in the very near future. In fact, according to a lawyer for Assange and the Wikileaks team, Assange’s potential eviction has become a “great concern” for those working to preserve his gilded freedom from American custody. And the reason is a simple and decidedly political one; the Ecuadorian presidential election.
The highly-contested presidency of Ecuador has come down to a run-off election, which will be held on April 2. The contenders for the highest political office in the land are Lenin Moreno, representing the current dominant party in the nation, and his opponent Guillermo Lasso. Simply put, if Moreno can pull off a win, Julian Assange will likely be granted permission to remain at the embassy (the candidate has indicated as much). Guillermo Lasso, however, has stated that he will have Julian Assange evicted within 30 days of his swearing in if he is able to pull off an upset victory.
According to his legal team, the very real possibility of an impending eviction has put a strain on Assange’s health. Attorney Jennifer Robinson says that his legal team is working on fallback methods to protect their client’s freedom in the event of a new Ecuadorian ruling regime. Further, she blasted the idea that Assange may be evicted purely due to political change in the country.
“We are preparing potential legal remedies should the opposition come to power in Ecuador. You don’t change asylum protections just because a change of government.”
As Fox News reported, Ecuadorian Embassy staff in London have faced a tough time since Julian Assange took up residency as an asylum seeker. His high-profile status and refusal to back off from his practice of American political meddling (you may remember the role Wikileaks played in the 2016 American presidential election) has put the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in the crosshairs for years now. Near the end of 2016, staff admitted to cutting the internet access of Julian Assange in the midst of political pressure.
“Our staff have been through a lot. There is a human cost. This is probably the most watched embassy on the planet.”
There is a very real chance that the political party and candidate who have vowed to push for the eviction of Julian Assange may pull off a run-off election victory. Reportedly, many Ecuadorian citizens are sick of the socialist rule of current president President Correa, and they are said to be rallying around the opposition party’s candidate rather than his hand-picked successor.
If opposition party candidate Guillermo Lasso is victorious in the upcoming run-off election, he will be installed as the new President of Ecuador on May 24. According to an interview he gave to the Guardian just weeks ago, governmental change will result in Julian Assange being evicted within 30 days.
“The Ecuadorean people have been paying a cost that we should not have to bear. We will cordially ask Mr. Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate.”
On November 14, Swedish investigators visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy to interview officially regarding the pending rape charges out of that country. It was also reported that Assange had provided a DNA sample to British police, and that Swedish authorities would have to request it from them. The November interaction was the first official statement Assange has made about his rape charges, and at this point, the arrest warrant in the case still stands.
London authorities have made it clear that if Julian Assange leaves the embassy, whether because he’s been evicted or by choice, he will be arrested and handed over to Swedish authorities. It has been the long-expressed fear of Assange and his legal team that Sweden will, in turn, hand him over to America for prosecution. If convicted of espionage in the U.S., he could face life in prison or possibly even the death penalty.
It is unclear how a case against Julian Assange might be handled by the new Trump administration. In the past, Donald Trump has alternatively praised Wikileaks and called the whistle-blowing organization “disgraceful.”
Trump has also changed his tune on leaks and leakers since becoming POTUS, and has vowed to aggressively punish those in his administration who leak classified information to the media. It is unknown how Trump’s ever-changing stance on leaks and anonymous sources could impact the treatment of Julian Assange by the U.S. in the event of his embassy eviction.
[Featured Image by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Images]