Friday, March 23, 2018

Ecuador wants Julian Assange out of its embassy. Deporting him to Australia is one option

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Ecuador is hoping it can break a long impasse that has seen WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holed up in its London embassy for five years.

It is seeking a third-party mediator to broker a deal with the United Kingdom in an effort to find a way for Mr Assange, who is an Australian citizen, to leave their building.

Ecuador has been "considering and exploring the possibility of a mediation" to resolve the issue.

Why is Julian Assange in Ecuador's UK embassy?

Mr Assange was accused of raping two women in Sweden in 2010 and was subsequently arrested in London.

He was released on bail whilst fighting extradition to Sweden, but after losing his appeal in 2012 he sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Mr Assange has been in the small embassy in Knightsbridge ever since.

Sweden has subsequently dropped all charges against Mr Assange, but he continues to fear extradition to the United States.

His website WikiLeaks published leaked intelligence from the United States and although it has not sought his arrest, Mr Assange is concerned the US is still considering prosecuting him.

Why did he seek asylum with Ecuador?

Ecuador's president at the time, Rafael Correa, was a vocal critic of the US and an ally of another high-profile US critic — Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Ms Assange had previously interviewed Mr Correa for a television program and the pair appeared to strike up a close rapport over their shared distrust of the US.

Mr Assange then chose Ecuador as his best option to seek asylum when he lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden.

So, is Ecuador now sick of its permanent house guest?

Ecuador's Foreign Minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, certainly seems keen to have Mr Assange out of the embassy.

"A person cannot live in those conditions forever," she said.

Not only is it difficult having a permanent asylum seeker in the very small embassy, it leaves Ecuador with tricky diplomatic relations with all the other countries involved — the UK, the US and Sweden.

Ecuador is hoping an international dignitary with experience in negotiations can act as a mediator, or a country not currently involved in the diplomatic tussle.

What could happen to Julian Assange now?

ANU professor of international law, Don Rothwell, has been following the case closely.

He believes there are only a limited number of options that can be negotiated.

" As things stand at the moment, I think there is really only two prospects for him," he said.

Those prospects are safe passage to Ecuador's capital Quito, or deportation.

"Safe passage [could] be granted for him to go to Ecuador where he would continue to enjoy diplomatic asylum and protection," Professor Don Rothwell said.

The problem for Mr Assange taking up Ecuador's offer of asylum has been getting to the South American country.

The moment he leaves the embassy, the UK is likely to arrest him for breaching his bail conditions when he sought asylum after losing his appeal.

The UK could agree not arrest him and permit his transfer to an airport so he can be flown to Quito.

But the UK has long flagged its intention to arrest him for breaching his bail, and isn't showing any signs of backing down.

In response the Ecuador's latest move to seek mediation, a UK Government spokesman said: "The Government of Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice."

"The other [option] is that he is deported to Australia," Professor Rothwell said.

This option would involve Mr Assange leaving the Ecuadorian embassy, being arrested by the UK police and prosecuted for breaching his bail conditions.

"Under that scenario, he could be subject to a short period of incarceration in a UK jail," Professor Rothwell said.

"He would then be considered to have breached UK law in violation of his immigration status and, as an Australian citizen, [be] deported back to Australia."

If he was deported to Australia, could he still be sent to the US?

The US has never laid charges or sought his arrest for the publication of classified documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the WikiLeaks website.

However, senior government office holders have been highly critical of Mr Assange in the past and he continues to fear prosecution.

Any mediated deal between Ecuador and the UK would likely have to address Mr Assange's concerns.

But Professor Rothwell said there were limits in what assurances Mr Assange can be given.

"That is a very difficult matter for an Australian Government official to deal with… [given] there is no formal extradition request that has been made by the United States to Australia," he said.

"If such a request was to be made, it would have to be dealt with by the normal procedures, which could ultimately see the matter go before the courts."

Original Article

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