Julian Assange’s Arrest In Ecuadorean Embassy Sparks Debate Over Asylum Status, Refugee Law

Ashwin Ahmad New Delhi 11 April 2019

The arrest of Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange by British police in the Ecuadorian embassy in London has sparked off media headlines and debate across the world.

Assange who had been taking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy since 2012 is now expected to appear in Westminster Magistrates Court in London where it will be learnt whether he will be extradited to the U.S. The founder of Wikileaks is wanted by the U.S. on the change of publishing ‘national secrets’ on its website and then skipping bail in 2012.

The U.S.  justice department says that he faces up to five years in jail.
British authorities maintain that they were able to enter into the embassy with the knowledge and permission of the Ecuador government and the embassy.  Tweeting about the arrest British Home Secretary Sajid Javid had written, ‘Nearly 7 yrs after entering the Ecuadorean Embassy, I can confirm Julian Assange is now in police custody and rightly facing justice in the UK. I would like to thank Ecuador for its cooperation & @metpoliceuk for its professionalism. No one is above the law.’

Assange’s legal team, however, maintain that the arrest violates ‘international refugee law’ as the arrest took place on diplomatic premises.     

Rumours of Assange’s arrest had been floating for some time now as his relationship with the Ecuadorean government had been slowly becoming rocky for some time now. Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno said the country had ‘reached its limit on the behaviour of Mr Assange’ and claimed they had repeatedly asked him to desist from political activities which they say he had ignored. It is also said that his mobile and laptop had been confiscated some time back.        

Assange’s team claim however that the reason for his arrest is the government’s retaliation for the controversial INA Papers scandal. A tweet from Wikileaks on March 26 said that President Moreno was being investigated by Ecuador’s Congress for corruption which was disclosed by the INA papers.

Post the Wikileaks tweet, prominent members of the Ecuador government reacted with outrage.  Foreign Minister Jose Valencia said that the WikiLeaks tweet was ‘an absurd lie to harm the dignity of our country.’ Communications Minister Andrés Michelena told CNN Español said the INA papers ‘were part of a plot of Julian Assange, Venezuelan President Maduro and former Ecuadorian President Correa to bring down Moreno’s government.’

A controversial figure, Julian Assange has divided opinion the world over.  The frontman of Wikileaks, Assange has been lauded by activists, especially anti-war campaigners,  for releasing documents that disclosed the secret death and torture of civilians and covert military operations by the U.S. during the Iraq and Afghan wars. An estimated 500,000 U.S. documents had been released.

But others have accused Assange of irresponsibility with countries across the world stating that Wikileaks had risked lives by revealing information on sources, intelligence techniques and cover operations. Human right groups and mainline newspapers across the world that once worked with Wikileaks too started distancing themselves from the group and Assange when the documents were dumped online unedited risking the lives of informants.                      

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