Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June of 2012. Assange applied for political asylum at that time, and his request was granted in August of 2012. According to BBC News, chief among Julian Assange’s concerns in requesting asylum is not the charges he faces in Sweden over sexual assault allegations (which he denies), but rather a worry over possible deportation to the United States, where Assange may be brought up on charges that could earn him a death sentence. It is for this reason that Ecuador has historically justified providing asylum to Assange.
The potential charges Assange could face if extradited to the United States stem from a series of leaks of official United States documents beginning with the infamous 2010 Afghanistan war logs leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, who was recently granted a commutation of her sentence for the crime by former President, Barack Obama, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
Now, after this weak’s headline-grabbing release of internal CIA spying documents by Wikileaks, known as “Vault 7,” Ecuador is again facing intense pressure to end asylum at its London embassy for Julian Assange. Advocates for Assange contend that he and WikiLeaks are doing a public service in releasing information to the public about what they see as misdeeds by the American government. Assange’s opponents see him as a villain interested only in doing harm to the national security interests of the United States and its allies.
The point of contention over Ecuador’s asylum for Assange is rather timely, as Ecuador in February had an election to decide its new President. That election resulted in no clear winner, and a run-off election will be held in April to finally decide who will be the successor to current President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa.
The run-off election in Ecuador, to be held April 2, 2017, pits the left-wing successor to Rafael Correa, Lenin Moreno, against a right-wing challenger, Guillermo Lasso. According to Business Insider, Lasso has voiced strong opposition to continuing Ecuador’s asylum for Julian Assange, while Moreno has promised to continue Assange’s asylum.
“The Ecuadorian people have been paying a cost that we should not have to bear,” Lasso said. “We will cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate.”
According to NBC News, Ecuador last October succumbed to mounting pressure from the United States to cut off internet access to Assange at its embassy ahead of last November’s elections. International pressure continues to grow for Ecuador to release Assange. Should Lasso win, it’s almost a given that Assange will be promptly evicted. Even a Moreno victory does not guarantee Assange’s continued asylum. Ecuador is facing times of economic uncertainty due largely to a downturn in oil prices. In 2016, the country’s economy shrunk by 1.6 percent, its largest slump in over a decade. The country also has corruption issues of its own that are factoring largely in this year’s elections.
Domestic concerns and international pressure will make it difficult for Assange to maintain his asylum status in the months to come regardless of who wins the election in April.
A recent poll of Ecuadorians has given Lasso a 52.1 to 47.2 percent lead over Moreno in April’s election. His win will almost certainly spell doom for Julian Assange, though Lasso has indicated he would work to find asylum for Assange in another country’s embassy.
According to The Guardian, Julian Assange would be in danger of facing espionage charges should he be extradited to the United States. Under U.S. federal law, a conviction could result in Assange being sentenced to death. Assange had promised to agree to extradition had Barack Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning. After the commutation of Manning’s sentence, Assange contended that commutation is not clemency, and he did not agree to extradition.
A fearless journalist exposing the misdeeds of powerful governments or a villain intent on destroying the free world for his won selfish interests, people’s opinions about Julian Assange are polarizing, to say the least. The people of Ecuador are not exempt from these polarizing views, and this is reflected in the fact that Assange is one of many important factors in their election. Regardless of the fate of Assange, Wikileaks as an entity is more than its founder, and will likely continue its activities even if Assange is extradited, charged, and convicted in the United States.
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