By Liliana Honorato
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where since December 2010 Assange has been under house arrest because Sweden requested his extradition after he was accused of sexually assaulting two women in Stockholm in August 2010, reported the Guardian and the Wall Street Journal. As the Guardian noted, Assange, facing potential espionage charges that could be brought by the United States, feels it would be harder to be extradited to the United States from Ecuador than from Sweden.
Assange's petition, which could prevent his deportation to Sweden, was announced by Ecuadorian foreign secretary Ricardo Patiño on Tuesday, June 19. Patiño said that the Ecuadorian government is evaluating the petition, reported Europa Press and Univisión.
Assange's petition has taken many by surprise in light of the face that the former hacker is known for “furthering transparency at a time when governments are reducing it,” while the Ecuadorian government is known for its constant attacks against the press and for its multiple attacks against freedom of expression in the country. Despite this, the Ecuadorian foreign secretary said that "there is total freedom of expression in Ecuador" and that this is why Assange had chosen to seek asylum from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, reported the news agency ANSA.
According to Reuters, in a letter written to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who was interviewed by Assange in May, Assange said that he felt he was being persecuted "for publishing information that threatens those who are powerful." Ironically, at the end of April 2012, the director of the Ecuadorian NGO Fundamedios, journalist César Ricaurte, sent an open letter to President Correa after receiving death threats for his criticisms against the government.
In November 2010, Ecuadorian Foreign Relations Minister Kintto Lucas offered Ecuadorian residency to Assange, but president Correa later canceled the invitation.
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.