Ecuador grants Assange political asylum – but how will he get from London to Quito?

News about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden and the possibility of being sent to the USA to face spurious but all too serious espionage charges. In June he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embasshy in London, requesting political asylum. Well, the Ecuador government has made its decision: as things stand, Assange is a potential political prisoner, and if he’s extradited to Sweden there is a very definite possibility that he will be forwarded to America, where faces charges relating to “top secret” communiques that were leaked by Wikileaks and published by the New York Times and the Guardian. Hmm, that’s a thought: how come the New York Times editor hasn’t been charged with espionage? Why isn’t the USA calling for the extradition of Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian? Rhetorical questions of course. Newspapers have been around a long time, as has been the notion of a free press. But many governments say that online reporting isn’t really journalism at all – and of course Wikileaks is a pain in the ass that the US/UK would like to stomp to death pour encourager les autres.

Countries usually respect the embassies of other nations, regarding diplomatic posts as the legal territory of that foreign nation. But William Hague, British foreign secretary and effectively the prime minister as the real prime minister (David Cameron) and the deputy PM (Nick Clegg) has made some ominous threats. He’s already said in public that Assange would be arrested if he leaves the embassy in London where he has lived for nearly two months, and Ecuador claim that British authorities are threatening to storm the embassy to arrest him.

Hague responded to the asylum decision saying it was “a matter of regret” that Assange had been granted asylum, and that Assange would be arrested when he left the embassy regardless.

The British government sent a letter to Ecuadorean officials in Quito outlining the powers of the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which allows revocation of a building’s diplomatic status if the foreign power occupying it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post”. Hague said this was not a threat, simply an explanation of British law, allegedly in line with international law.

If government agents (ie. the police) invade the embassy to arrest Assange, it will be setting a precedent with possibly explosive outcomes. In recent history foreign embassies have been sacrosanct. Earlier this year, the lawyer and dissident Chen Guangcheng took refuge in the US embassy in China; and the People’s Revolutionary Army didn’t storm the building – when Chen left the embassy it was completely freely. And many other people have gained sanctuary in another countries’ embassies – check out the list here. If the British government think the Ecuadorean embassy is fair game, what will happen to the British Embassy in Ecuador… or anywhere else?

Think, Hague, think. If Dave comes back from holiday to a diplomatic crisis, heads will roll. Even yours. :p

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