Britain issues a threat
Activists from the WISE Up network and others, some of whom have been maintaining a daily vigil since 19 June when Julian entered the embassy seeking asylum, gathered in numbers late on the evening of Wednesday 15 August after an implied threat by the British government to storm the embassy and seize Julian. Responding to this blatant intimidation, WikiLeaks issued a statement, a spokesperson for the Ecuadorian government spoke about the situation, while whistleblower and former UK ambassador to Uzbekhistan Craig Murray blogged about it.
This is the WikiLeaks statement in full:
In a communication this morning to the government of Ecuador, the UK threatened to forcefully enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrest Julian Assange. The UK claims the power to do so under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987. This claim is without basis.
By midnight, two hours prior to the time of this announcement, the embassy had been surrounded by police, in a menacing show of force. Any transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies worldwide.
This threat is designed to preempt Ecuador’s imminent decision on whether it will grant Julian Assange political asylum, and to bully Ecuador into a decision that is agreeable to the United Kingdom and its allies.
WikiLeaks condemns in the strongest possible terms the UK’s resort to intimidation.
A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances, and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide.
We draw attention to the fact that the United Nations General Assembly has unanimously declared in Resolution 2312 (1967) that
“the grant of asylum… is a peaceful and humanitarian act and that, as such, it cannot be regarded as unfriendly by any other State.”
Pursuant to this resolution, a decision to grant asylum cannot be construed by another State as an unfriendly act. Neither can there be diplomatic consequences for granting asylum.
We remind the public that these extraordinary actions are being taken to detain a man who has not been charged with any crime in any country.
WikiLeaks joins the Government of Ecuador in urging the UK to resolve this situation according to peaceful norms of conduct.
We further urge the UK government to show restraint, and to consider the dire ramifications of any violation of the elementary norms of international law.
We ask that the UK respect Ecuador’s sovereign right to deliver a decision of its own making on Julian Assange’s asylum bid.
Noting that Ecuador has called for emergency summits of OAS and UNASUR in response to this development, WikiLeaks asks those bodies to support Ecuador’s rights in this matter, and to oppose any attempts to coerce a decision.
We note with interest that this development coincides with the UK Secretary of State William Hague’s assumption of executive responsibilities during the vacation of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Hague’s department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has overseen the negotiations to date with Ecuador in the matter of Mr Assange’s asylum bid.
If Mr Hague has, as would be expected, approved this decision, WikiLeaks calls for his immediate resignation.
The statement from Ecuador reads:
We are deeply shocked by British government’s threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy. This is a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention.
Throughout out the last 56 days Mr. Julian Assange has been in the Embassy, the Ecuadorian Government has acted honourably in all our attempts to seek a resolution to the situation. This stands in stark contrast to the escalation of the British Government today with their threats to breakdown the door of the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Instead of threatening violence against the Ecuadorian Embassy the British Government should use its energy to find a peaceful resolution to this situation which we are aiming to achieve.
Overkill policing at the embassy
There was a greatly increased police presence at the embassy on the night of 15-16 August, with Territorial Support Group cops (ID numbers beginning in ‘U’), a number of whom were posted inside the building’s front door as well as on the steps and in police vans outside.
Mainstream media showed up again, reclaiming the pen opposite the embassy that supporters have been using for their daily vigil for almost eight weeks. Around 20 supporters stayed through the night, with numbers increasing by early morning.
Crowds gather to hear Ecuador’s verdict
Much larger numbers gathered later that morning in the run up to the announcement from Quito on the asylum application. A vocal contingent from Ecuador’s London community, who have also supported at the daily vigils, were there in solidarity along with Veterans for Peace, Occupy, Friends of WikiLeaks, Anonymous and many other groups and individuals. There were a few arrests with police hostility apparently focusing on independent reporters at the scene.
Soon after 1pm BST on Thursday 16 August (early morning in Ecuador), in a strongly worded statement, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Integration Ricardo Patiño Aroca announced that Julian’s request for asylum has been granted.
The statement included these comments:
[T]he Government of Ecuador believes that… he may become a victim of political persecution, as a result of his dedicated defense of freedom of expression and freedom of press as well as his repudiation of the abuses of power in certain countries, and that these facts suggest that Mr. Assange could at any moment find himself in a situation likely to endanger life, safety or personal integrity. This fear has driven him to exercise the right to seek and receive asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador in the UK…
The Government of Ecuador believes it is important to note that the rules and principles recognized in the international instruments mentioned above and in other multilateral agreements take precedence over domestic law of States, because these treaties are based on universal rules guided by intangible principles, whereof deriving greater respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights against unilateral attitudes of such States…
[O]ur country has sought to obtain strict guarantees from the UK government that Assange would face, without hindrance, an open legal process in Sweden. These safeguards include that after facing his legal responsibilities in Sweden, that he would not be extradited to a third country… Unfortunately, despite repeated exchanges of messages, the UK at no time showed signs of wanting to reach a political compromise, and merely repeated the content of legal texts.
Assange’s lawyers invited Swedish authorities to take Assange statements in the premises of the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Ecuador officially conveyed to Swedish authorities its willingness to host this interview without interference or impediment to the legal processes followed in Sweden. This measure is absolutely legally possible. Sweden did not accept.
On the other hand, Ecuador raised the possibility that the Swedish government establish guarantees to not subsequently extradite Assange to the United States. Again, the Swedish government rejected any compromise in this regard…
Finally, Ecuador wrote to the U.S. government to officially reveal its position on Assange’s case…
The U.S. response has been that it cannot provide information about the Assange case, claiming that it is a bilateral matter between Ecuador and the United Kingdom…
[T]he Government of Ecuador, true to its tradition of protecting those who seek refuge in its territory or on the premises of its diplomatic missions, has decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr. Assange, based on the application submitted to the President of the Republic, transmitted in writing in London, dated June 19, 2012, and supplemented by letter written in London dated June 25, 2012, for which the Government of Ecuador, after a fair and objective assessment of the situation described by Mr. Assange, according to his own words and arguments, endorsed the fears of the appellant, and accepts that there are indications which lead to the conclusion that he may face political persecution, or that such persecution could occur if timely and necessary measures are not taken to avoid it.
The announcement was greeted with jubilation by the crowds outside the embassy.
Response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
In a series of tweets soon after the announcement, the FCO said:
We are disappointed by the statement from Ecuador’s Foreign Minister that Ecuador has offered political asylum to Julian Assange. Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal UK authorities are under binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden.
We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorian Government’s decision this afternoon does not change that.
We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act.
Foreign Secretary William Hague, who also happens to be in charge while David Cameron and Nick Clegg are on holiday, made a statement later in the afternoon, just repeating that the UK is committed to delivering Julian Assange to Sweden.
He repeated the longstanding lie that Julian faces charges in Sweden:
No-one, least of all the Government of Ecuador, should be in any doubt that we are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Mr Assange extradited to Sweden. He faces serious charges [THIS IS UNTRUE] in a country with the highest standards of law and where his rights are guaranteed [THESE THINGS ARE ALSO UNTRUE]. We believe that should be assurance enough for Ecuador and any supporters of Mr Assange.
We will remain fully committed to seeking a legal and binding bilateral solution to this with the Government of Ecuador…
Safe passage to Ecuador
Now the pressure needs to be on the UK to facilitate Julian’s safe passage out of the country and to Ecuador. To that end, Occupy Wall Street have announced an occupation of the British Consulate in New York City. Michael Ratner of the US Centre for Constitutional Reform has spoken on Democracy Now about the situation and advised the British government to ‘back off’.
It seems clear that last night’s shenanigans were an intimidatory tactic, a last ditch attempt to dissuade Ecuador from granting asylum, no doubt carried out at the request of the US by Britain with its usual sycophantic desire to please. We should expect that such tactics may well continue. These desperate and extreme measures expose this political persecution of Julian Assange as does Sweden’s flat refusal to accept Ecuador’s offer for him to be interviewed while in the embassy or to give the assurance required that he would not be rendered to the US if delivered to Sweden.
Thank you Ecuador for standing up to the world’s big bullies and for doing so in such clear, strong and unequivocal terms. We thank you also for acknowledging the truth of the risk of harm Julian Assange faces (which Bradley Manning is already suffering) for exposing the lies we’ve been fed for years, that the public are always fed, about the wars being visited on civilians around the world, including the ubiquitous ‘war on terror’ and about US interventionism and its nefarious empire building activities worldwide.
It will be interesting to see whether the world’s media continues its malicious and unprecedented smearing of Julian Assange or whether it manages to acknowledge the persecution and injustices he has been subjected to these past 18 months.
Statement from Julian Assange
Julian issued a statement that reads:
I am grateful to the Ecuadorean people, President Rafael Correa and his government. It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation. While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented US investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped.
While today much of the focus will be on the decision of the Ecuadorean government, it is just as important that we remember Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for over 800 days.
The task of protecting WikiLeaks, its staff, its supporters and its alleged sources continues.
Artwork above by Chris Holden.
Meanwhile, in Brisbane
18 people gathered outside the Dept. of Foreign Affairs Brisbane demanding the Australian government cease its complicit negligence and start defending the human rights of Australian citizen Julian Assange. Assange has been threatened by calls for his assassination by leading U.S. politicians, a secret Grand Jury indictment in relation to his work with WikiLeaks and now the recent British government threat to storm the London Ecuadorian embassy with the notoriously trigger-happy armed response unit of the London metropolitan police.
Former U.S. political prisoner Ciaron O’Reilly stated outside the Brisbane DFA offices:
It’s instructive that on a day that former conservative Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser leads the call for an inquiry into the lies that led Australia into the illegal invasion of Iraq, both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are detained accused of exposing the lies and massacres that followed the U.S. invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is crucial for any of those millions of people who marched against these wars in 2003 to immediately embrace their consequent responsibilities and proactively defend Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and other nonviolent anti-war resisters. By marching in 2003, we incited both Bradley and Julian to nonviolently expose this criminal war, now they are being hunted down by the U.S. war machine we need to be on the streets and in the face of those who trash our civil rights and massacre civilians without accountability.