The U.K. government’s threat to raid the Ecuadorean Embassy in order to arrest Julian Assange is itself a serious violation of international law and diplomatic conventions and deserves international condemnation, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. Were British police to breach the inviolability of the embassy, it would set a dangerous precedent, he added. Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño revealed the threat yesterday, just hours before he announced that asylum had been granted this morning.
“The British threats are really unprecedented and an offense to the international community,” Weisbrot said. “It is a Mafia-like response, saying we can settle this question by force rather than law because no one can stop us.”
Weisbrot noted that “The U.K. government would not resort to such extreme threats if this case were really just about a foreign citizen who was wanted for questioning – not criminal charges or a trial – in a neighboring country. Clearly there are other motives involved.”
“Who is Assange to provoke such an overreaction? He is merely wanted for questioning in Sweden, yet the Swedish authorities have rejected numerous opportunities, including Ecuador’s recent offer, to question him in London. They have done so without even offering a reason.”
Weisbrot noted that WikiLeaks has revealed much embarrassing information about the U.S. government and its allies – including evidence of possible war crimes, and that this could be part of the reason why the U.K. government is willing to flout international law in order to extradite him.
“Were the British to actually revoke Ecuador’s diplomatic immunity and raid the embassy, what kind of precedent would this set? It would be one where asylum from political persecution would never be secure.”
Weisbrot noted that Assange’s fear of persecution in the U.S. was well-founded: “Leading Democrats such as Senator Dianne Feinstein have repeatedly called for his prosecution under the Espionage Act, which carries a possible death sentence or life in prison. Vice President Biden has referred to him as a ‘high-tech terrorist,’ and other political figures and pundits have called for his assassination.”
Weisbrot added that Assange need only look at the case of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of leaking information to Assange’s organization WikiLeaks, to get an idea of how he might be treated. Manning was held for 11 months in pre-trial solitary confinement, in conditions condemned by the UN special rapporteur on torture as “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture… ” and also violating his presumption of innocence.