Free Assange? UK says no way

The Wikileaks founder gets asylum from Ecuador. But how will he get there?

Michael Fitzgerald By Michael Fitzgerald

Muzzled? Assange supporters say yes. (Reuters/Neil Hall)

You never learn so much as when you see yourself through the eyes of others. That’s why Latitude News looks at the foreign press every week to see what the world is saying about the U.S.

This week, the U.S. looks like a brooding thunderhead in the coverage about Ecuador granting Julian Assange’s request for asylum. Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June. Ecuador granted him asylum this week. It claimed that Assange was justified in fearing that Sweden, which wants to try him on charges of sexual assault, will turn around and send him to the U.S. Assange fears the U.S. will try him of espionage, which can carry the death penalty.

The Guardian columnist Mark Weisbrot said the whole Assange affair exposes the U.S. as a hypocritical proponent of human rights. But The Independent’s Owen Jones skewered Assange and Ecuador, noting that Assange stands accused of raping two Swedish women and, based on evidence presented, ought to face Swedish justice. Jones also asks why, if the U.S. wanted Assange, it wouldn’t take the path of least resistance: ask Britain to extradite him.

Meanwhile, German Deutsche Welle noted that Ecuador has hardly been friendly to critics in its own press and questioned how long it would take Assange to wear out his welcome were he to make it to Ecuador.

In Ecuador itself, El Comercio, a newspaper in the capital, Quito, ran a social media poll in which 55 percent of respondents were against granting Assange asylum, though voters split: Facebook users favored it, those on Twitter didn’t.

It may not matter what Ecuador thinks, since the British say the only way he’ll be leaving the country is on a plane to Sweden.

In Assange’s native country, The Australian reviewed his options for getting out, one of which involves sticking him in a diplomatic courier bag.

At least the U.S. hasn’t done what Britain did, which is threaten to revoke the Ecuadorian embassy’s diplomatic immunity. That baffling move sparked shivers of horror throughout the Western diplomatic corps, and left the British foreign minister looking awkward.

One thing’s clear: Assange has managed to make everyone else look like they’re playing into his hands, including Ecuador. No wonder he’s really bored.

Send Assange to Turkey?

“Stop grinning, rookie.” Is that what Erdogan (r) is saying to Ricciardone in this 2011 photo? (Reuters)

Perhaps Assange should be sent to Turkey, where the U.S. is pressuring the Turkish government to allow a freer press. Hurriyet reported that the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, told the Turkish press that:

“…it’s one of the fundamental areas where Turkey needs to pay attention if it’s to emerge absolutely where Turks want the country emerge: as a hundred-percent, first-class, world-standard democracy.”

Having schooled the U.S. on just how free a press can be, Assange might have some pointers for the Turkish media. On the other hand, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Ricciardone “a rookie.” If Erdogan lives up to his reputation, Assange might consult his way into jail. While it wouldn’t be the movie version of Midnight Express, it wouldn’t be fun, either. Maybe the Ecuadorian embassy in Ankara is larger than the one in London.

Freedom of speech—and airplanes

“Blessed are the merciful.” Pussy Riot supporters, in front of the Moscow Cathedral where band members were arrested, hold a hopeful message before the verdict in their trial. (Reuters)

It seems to be freedom of expression week. The Lebanese would like Israel to stop expressing itself by flying its airplanes into Lebanese air space. A Hezbollah official challenged Lebanon’s more moderate political parties to get the U.S. to stop Israel from sending its planes into Lebanese air space.

In Russia, a judge has announced her verdict in the trial of Pussy Riot, the protest punk band who invaded a Russian Orthodox Cathedral during a service and “prayed” for the Virgin Mary to get rid of Vladimir Putin. All three band members were found, wait for it, guilty and each woman was sentenced to two years in prison.

Earlier this week, as the country awaited the verdict, state-backed Ria Novosti had an insightful piece pointing out that arresting the outspoken musicians may well have created a bigger problem than the Kremlin foresaw:

If the women are released, it sends a signal to critics that open protest will now be tolerated, and the Kremlin has grown hesitant to continue its crackdown on dissent, analysts predict. If they are jailed, however, it may only intensify the simmering public discontent with the government.

Putin himself made public comments suggesting that the court should tread lightly. Maybe he could pull some strings behind the scenes with the Ecuadorians, and arrange for asylum for the band.