By Liliana Honorato
On Thursday, Aug. 16, the Ecuadorian government confirmed that it would grant political asylum to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom on June 19 after being under house arrest since December of 2010 in that country for being accused by the Swedish government of sexually assaulting two women in Stockholm in August 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Assange’s request for help from the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa surprised many, as Correa is known for having multiple problems with the press in his country and has been accused several times for jeopardizing freedom of expression and of the press in the country. On the contrary, the former hacker is known for “furthering transparency at a time when governments are reducing it.”
Even so, others recognize that Assange’s move was well-thought out, as the hacktivist founder faced the possibility of being extradited to the United States for espionage charges for having leaked classified documents from that country, and it would be harder to be extradited to the United States from Ecuador than from Sweden.
The decision to grant diplomatic asylum to Assange was announced by Ecuadorian foreign secretary Ricardo Patiño, who said that Assange would not have a fair trial in the United States, if he were to be extradited there, according to the newspaper La Hora. Patiño also said that the Ecuadorian government received a written threat from the British government saying that the Ecuadorian Embassy in London could be raided if it did not release Assange to authorities, the newspaper El Telégrafo added.
Reporters Without Borders also expressed Patiño’s concern. “Assange’s extradition to Sweden could not be legitimate without the strict condition that it would not ultimately lead to extradition to the United States,” where he “would risk the severest penalties – life imprisonment or even the death penalty – if he were tried in the United States,” the organization’s director-general Christophe Deloire said.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.