With the Ecuadorian President threatening to revoke Julian Assange’s political asylum if he continues to be Julian Assange, the future is desperately bleak.
In 1999 I took a backpack and my life savings to South America, intending to spend six months traversing as much of the continent as I could possibly fit in. I landed in Ecuador and my plans changed almost immediately. I fell in love with the country and its people and ended up spending over half my time there.
I arrived a few days after the banks had collapsed in a grim neoliberal foreshadowing as to what was going to happen in the States a decade later. Bank accounts were frozen as the government put salvaging the banks above feeding the people. There was anger and rioting, tear gas and rubber bullets, and a brass band. Always, there was a brass band. Sometimes shirtless, often shoeless, with a few dinged-up instruments creating a wild cacophony of joy to riot to. A tiny country with the equator running through three distinct topographies – the coast, the alps and the jungle – its claim to being “el mitad del mundo” rings true. It feels like you are living in the heart of the world. It is life, concentrated. And its people seem more real and more alive than any I have encountered in my many travels.
Which is why I was not surprised when this plucky nation knowingly took on the wrath of the western empire in granting Julian Assange political asylum in 2012. While my own sycophantic country, Australia, pathetically ignored the plight of its own citizen, Ecuador defiantly strode forward, and did what no one else was willing to.
Granting political asylum to a journalist who is being persecuted for speaking truth to power was the right thing to do, and for a few fine years Ecuador showed the world its soul with this brave act. You can understand my dismay, then, to see President Lenín Moreno flushing it all down the toilet by now telling that same journalist that he will no longer receive political asylum if he ever again speaks truth to power.
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In an interview with German publication Deutsche Welle, Ecuador’s president confirmed reports that revoking Assange’s political asylum is being actively considered and remains an option on the table, saying that his administration will “take a decision” if the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief refuses to comply with instructions to cease voicing his political opinions online. Saying that Assange’s public geopolitical analysis has “surpassed the limits of freedom of expression”, Moreno’s conditions on Assange’s continued asylum amount to a demand that Assange cease to practice the journalism he was granted political asylum for in the first place.
“Let’s not forget the conditions of his asylum prevent him from speaking about politics or intervening in the politics of other countries. That’s why we cut his communication,” Moreno said.
WikiLeaks has publicly and repeatedly denied that Assange ever made any agreement to refrain from political commentary as a condition of his asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and indeed we have never heard any talk about any such agreement until after Moreno took office last year. Assange has now been in effective isolation without any access to visitors, phone calls or Internet for two months, reportedly due to a tweet Assange made criticising the Spanish government’s oppressive response to the Catalan independence movement.
Ecuador’s previous president, Rafael Correa, has denounced the Moreno administration’s isolation of Assange as a form of torture.
So it appears that Assange is being presented with three options:
- Remain in isolation indefinitely and suffer the gradual decline of body and mind which necessarily comes with it;
- Come out of isolation on the condition that he cease voicing his political opinions or doing anything which could be perceived as interfering in the affairs of another nation, which would be to cease practicing journalism, and, in a sense, cease being Julian Assange;
- Be forced out of the embassy.
All three options that Assange is being offered result in his being silenced. The police patrolling the embassy have standing orders to arrest him as soon as he sets foot outside regardless of his diplomatic status, the British government has for six years refused to say whether it has received a US extradition request for him, and the Trump administration has made no secret about its agenda to arrest Assange and crush WikiLeaks. He either rots in isolation, remains politically silent and inactive, or goes to prison under the same government which tortured Chelsea Manning.
The western empire’s agenda to silence a dissident journalist, which President Moreno is now fully facilitating, proves beyond a doubt that the world needs the truth-spreading work of WikiLeaks more than ever, and it proves that Ecuador was right to shelter him from persecution in the first place. Walking back on that to fall into imperial sycophancy after all these years is shameful.
There are precious few forces in this world that have both the will to do great good and the power to enforce it. Ecuador is one of them. Here’s hoping it turns around and shows the world that brave, indomitable spirit I fell in love with in 1999.