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If you ever decide to be a whistle blower against the US, you better be prepared to be convicted for espionage because that is what will happen. It's hard to believe we've reached this point where if the government does something wrong, and you have the proof, you have to keep your mouth shut or you'll be thrown in prison or executed. Let's hope these dark ages don't keep getting darker.
techdirt.com - While I've covered numerous aspects of Wikileaks, I've shied almost entirely away from the arrest of Julian Assange and the extradition fight to have him sent to Sweden, as well as the questions involving asylum in Ecuador. For the most part, I considered those things to be outside the scope of what's normally interesting around here. Whether or not you think the claims of what he did in Sweden were legitimate or trumped up, it was wholly separate from what he did with Wikileaks. That said, with the news today that Ecuador has, in fact, granted asylum to Assange, there are a few tidbits that have made the story extra interesting.
First up, is the absolutely astounding and shocking news -- as released to the public by the Ecuadorian embassy -- that the UK literally threatened to enter the embassy in order to get Assange and ship him to Sweden:
"You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the embassy. We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us."
If you don't follow diplomatic and embassy issues, this might not seem like a big deal, but it's huge. While it's mostly a myth that embassies are considered the sovereign territory of the countries they represent, under the Vienna Convention, the UK has agreed that such premises "shall be inviolable" and that its agents "may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission." The UK's very direct threat here s that it would ignore that international agreement just to get Assange. That the UK would be willing to take such an incredibly drastic step to extradite Assange seems completely disconnected from the nature of the accusations against him. It would also put UK diplomats at risk around the globe, as other countries would note that it did not respect the Vienna Convention, so why should they?
Then there's a deeply disturbing, but quite compelling, argument by Mark Weisbrot at The Guardian, that even if these things seem disconnected, it's pretty clear that the driving force behind all of this is the plan for the US to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act for his role in Wikileaks -- and this moment is particularly stunning. Historically, those who were being persecuted on human rights issues fled to the United States for asylum. Not the other way around. But here's a case where the exact opposite is true. And while many people have gotten past the point of believing that the US is a beacon of light on human rights issues, the fact that Assange had to take this action, combined with the UK's response, really acts as a distinct (and tremendously embarrassing) marker for a clear point in time in which the US turned from being a protector of human rights, to a persecutor against human rights.
The points raised by Weisbrot include the fact that Assange still hasn't actually been charged in Sweden. He notes that Swedish officials have been offered, multiple times, the opportunity to come to the UK to question him, and they've refused each time, including a recent offer from the Ecuadorian embassy to question him there:
We can infer that the Swedes have no legitimate reason for the extradition, since they were repeatedly offered the opportunity to question him in the UK, but rejected it, and have also refused to even put forth a reason for this refusal. A few weeks ago the Ecuadorian government offered to allow Assange to be questioned in its London embassy, where Assange has been residing since 19 June, but the Swedish government refused – again without offering a reason. This was an act of bad faith in the negotiating process that has taken place between governments to resolve the situation.
Former Stockholm chief district prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem also made it clear that the Swedish government had no legitimate reason to seek Assange's extradition when he testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is "unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate", because he could be easily questioned in the UK.
I'm not willing to go quite that far, in that I'll grant the possibility that there is a legitimate reason for Assange to be extradited -- but the failure of the Swedish government to take easy steps to prove those legitimate reasons or to obtain the necessary evidence is concerning.
And that's where Weisbrot connects the US to the whole thing. While we've talked about UK-US extradition in other contexts, apparently Assange could not be extradited to the US from the UK based on any of the possible charges against him. But that wouldn't be true in Sweden. Which gives rise to plenty of reasons why Sweden and the UK might be under heavy diplomatic pressure to get Assange to Sweden -- even to the point of threatening to enter the embassy to get him. Weisbrot points out that there's plenty of evidence that the US is sitting on an indictment for Assange:
But, most importantly, the government of Ecuador agreed with Assange that he had a reasonable fear of a second extradition to the United States, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist. The evidence for this was strong. Some examples: an ongoing investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks in the US; evidence that an indictment had already been prepared; statements by important public officials such as Democratic senator Diane Feinstein that he should be prosecuted for espionage, which carries a potential death penalty or life imprisonment.
This, by itself, is quite troubling, as we've discussed in the past. No matter what you think of Assange (and, personally, I don't think too highly of his methods or his grandstanding), it's a massive stretch to think that he should even be subject to an Espionage Act claim. However, as we've detailed multiple times, the Obama administration has turned the Espionage Act from a law against spying into a law against whistleblowers who embarrass them. The administration has used the Espionage Act twice as many times as all other Presidents combined to go after journalists and whistleblowers. Even if you disagree with Assange's methods, or the way that Wikileaks has operated, this should concern you. What Wikileaks did was not "espionage."
This will have massive ramifications for US foreign policy on human rights issues.
Read more: US, UK Betray Basic Values To Get Assange At Any Cost
UK threat to storm Ecuadorian embassy and arrest Julian Assange
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