The Julian Assange story rolls on. His arrest this morning at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum six years ago, is the latest chapter. I blogged quite a lot about him at the beginning of his case, being professionally interested in ‘secret services’, and personally acquainted with Sweden, whither he was originally supposed to be extradited before Ecuador took him in. Here’s the first of my posts on the subject: https://bernardjporter.com/2015/01/09/julian-assange-and-the-european-arrest-warrant/. Several more followed.
In the intervening years a number of developments have taken place. One is, obviously, that the Ecuadorians have become fed up with him; or – possibly – more susceptible to outside pressure. A second is that the original ‘rape’ charges on which his extradition to Sweden was sought have now been dropped. (They were pretty dodgy anyway.) The charge on which he has just been arrested is of refusing to appear at his extradition hearing back in 2014. He’s clearly guilty of that, even though the original extradition application will no longer stand.
His objection to being extradited then had little to do with the ‘rape’ charges, but more with his fear that, once sent to Sweden, he would be re-extradited to the United States to face (potentially capital) treason or espionage charges. We know that this is what the US government wanted. A third development is that the US and indeed most of the world have become more right-wing since 2015, making his chances of avoiding extradition slightly less favourable than they were. Trump won’t be on his side. So he must be worried.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of him now. He’ll be found guilty of skipping bail. But what then? With our Home Office in the mood it’s in just now, I imagine they’ll want to get rid of him. But to where? Surely not to the USA, against the liberal outcry that would provoke around the world, and in the face of interminable legal proceedings. Other more generous countries intimated five years ago that they might grant him asylum, but would they still? He’s an Australian citizen; would the Australians want him back? Could they legally exclude him?
I have to say that I don’t approve of everything Assange and Wikileaks have done, and I doubt if I’d take to him personally. But there are principles at stake. It will be interesting to see how the story develops from here on; that is, if our papers aren’t too bored with him, or too taken up with the Brexit mess, to cover it.
12.50 p.m. – This is a rapidly developing story, of course! In the hour since I posted this, It has been announced (a) that Sweden can and might well re-open their case against Assange – that’s a surprise to me; and (b) that, as was more predictable, the arrest followed a new USA extradition warrant against him, albeit on a lesser charge than ‘treason’. Still, it shows he wasn’t being paranoid, as some claimed. Can we trust our government to resist? Nowadays, probably not. (See Philip Cassell’s comment, below.) The ‘Great Reaction’ again…
Good post, Bernard; however, “the Julian Assange story rolls on” employs typically-British understatement. “Rolls on” is surely the wrong metaphor in the circumstances. This episode involves Assange confronting a suddenly and dramatically escalating crisis, which is likely to end very badly. You write that the Home Office are likely to be intimidated by the prospect of a “liberal outcry” if he were extradited to the US. That might have been true three years ago, but now conservatives want blood; they are currently fuming over Brexit-denied. Throwing them the morsel of Assange could temporarily appease their lust for vengeance.
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