By - Adedoyin Shittu
After almost seven years in Ecuadorian Embassy, 47 years old Julian Assange political asylum was revoked by the embassy on April 11, under the pretext of violating the asylum conditions. There have been increasing tensions between Assange and the Ecuadorian government following a change in administration in Ecuador in 2017. Tension escalated when Wikileaks announced in a tweet that President Moreno is being investigated by Ecuador’s Congress for corruption, this prompted his eviction from the embassy. In an interview, the president said that the whistleblower tried to use the Ecuadorian embassy in London as a “centre for spying”.
Moreno said Assange could not use asylum to escape the law. “Under international law, Ecuador has safeguarded Assange’s basic rights but those rights cannot prevent him from appearing before the courts and responding to accusations against him. Political asylum cannot be used as a way to evade the consequences of committing crimes.”
The eviction of Assange from the embassy proved controversial by the president in Ecuador and sparked worldwide protest. The president has suffered low rating in his country and also facing corruption charges after INA paper leak was announced by wikileaks.
The INA Papers are a set of documents published in February 2019, allegedly uncovering the operations of INA Investment Corp, an offshore tax haven created by the brother of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno. The trove of emails, phone communications and expense receipts are said to link the president and his family to a series of corrupt and criminal dealings, including money laundering and offshore accounts.
The INA Papers website explains that the documents reveal that Moreno and his associates have used “at least a dozen offshore companies incorporated in various tax havens” to commit “a series of crimes including money laundering, tax fraud, influence peddling and the collection of bribes (bribery) to the detriment of the Ecuadorian state.”
The leak has sparked a congressional investigation into President Moreno for corruption. Moreno can’t be summoned for a criminal probe while he remains president. He is currently being investigated and risks impeachment.
The paper was published by “La Fuente” on the 11th of February 2019, and was only announced in a tweet by wikileaks on March 25th of 2019 (that is more than a month after the leak was released and carried by various social media users). Wikileaks has no link with the paper neither is Julian Assange ,who for more than half a year has not been its editor and has been isolated for one year under a regime quasi-prison by the government of Ecuador.
It was claimed that Assange was evicted from the embassy under that claim in order for him to be arraigned to the US in exchange for US debt release.
However the president disputed this claim and said It is a fallacy disseminated by groups related to the previous regime that did not want to find a solution to the Assange case beyond having him locked up in our embassy.
The previous president, Rafael Correa, has accused his one-time political ally, President Moreno, of “a crime humanity will never forget” and described Moreno as “the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history”.
Assange was taken from the embassy by British police and was found guilty of failing to surrender to the court in 2012 in the central London police station. Assange was further arrested at the request of the US seeking his extradition over allegations he conspired with former US military analyst Chelsea Manning to download classified databases in what the US justice department called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”. He was sentenced to 50 weeks in Belmarsh prison, a notorious prison in Southeast London that housed high risk prisoners.
Assange faces extradition to the US on espionage charges and to Sweden on sexual assault charges. The UK has to choose between the Swedes and the US. The charges levelled against Assange was a relatively low level espionage offence that would be ‘out ranked’ by a sexual assault claim by the Swedish government.
The United States had until 12 June to provide UK authorities with all the necessary documents for Assange’s extradition. Meanwhile, Swedish prosecutor’s announced in mid-May that the investigation into sexual assault charges against the WikiLeaks founder would be reopened as well.
An indictment made by US government charged Assange with one count, conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a Defense Department computer password.
In order to put more pressure on UK, US announced 17 more mid-level charges on UK.
The 17 additional charges unsealed Thursday go further, accusing him of one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history. The new charges rely on the Espionage Act, which dates to the World War I era and is designed to protect the handling of classified information. Prosecutors say Assange asked for and received hundreds of thousands of secret government documents including military reports and State Department cables in violation of the act.
The US, critically, has not charged Assange with the top-level espionage crimes, as this may outweigh a sexual assault claim but such top level crimes carry the death penalty in the US. The UK, like Australia, will not extradite in death penalty cases.
If extradited to Sweden, Assange faces a maximum of four years in prison in Sweden if he is convicted of rape and Swedish law prohibits extradition of Swedish nationals for military offences such as the charges against him in the US. Though it could be argued that Assange is not a Swedish national but Australian.
It is up to the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid to determine where Assange goes next. Sajid Javid, who is also running for Prime minister position, signed an extradition order ahead of the court order.
A British court has set a date early next year for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face a U.S. extradition attempt over his role in revealing classified government and military information.
The judge at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday set a full extradition hearing for Feb. 25, 2020. It is expected to last about five days. Interim hearings are expected in July and October.
US charges against Assange, a dearth to Investigative journalism
New charges filed against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange quickly drew alarm Thursday from media organizations and others. The groups are concerned that the Justice Department is charging Assange for actions that ordinary journalists do routinely in their jobs.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director, Joel Simon was quoted as saying in a statement released on the organisation’s official website late on Thursday.; “The indictment of Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for publishing classified information is an attack on the First Amendment and a threat to all journalists everywhere who publish information that governments would like to keep secret. Press freedom in the United States and around the world is imperilled by this prosecution”.
It is sad and equally dangerous that the US, a country that takes pride in the First Amendment Bill is seeking to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act.
How does Assange and Wikileaks differ from “Washington Post” or the “New York Times”. If it was legal for The New York Times to publish the classified Pentagon Papers detailing the US’ lies when it came to Vietnam, it’s legal for WikiLeaks to do the same.
Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said in an email that the government’s charges “rely almost entirely on conduct that national-security journalists engage in every day.” That includes cultivating sources, encouraging sources to share information about government policy and conduct, and receiving and publishing classified information. He called those activities “crucial to investigative journalism, and crucial to the public’s ability to understand government policy and conduct.”
US Justice Department officials said they don’t view Assange, who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, as a journalist. And they say his actions strayed far outside what the First Amendment protects.
The Justice Department, in announcing the new charges, sought to draw a distinction between journalism and Assange’s actions.
John C. Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said; “Julian Assange is no journalist,”. He noted that the indictment charges Assange with conspiring to obtain classified information and publishing the names of secret sources that gave critical information to American military forces and diplomats.
“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the department’s policy to target them for their reporting,” Demers said.
Assange well being, threatened
A United Nations expert has said the Wikileaks founder shows all the symptoms of psychological torture and risks having his human rights violated if he is extradited to the US.
Nils Melzer, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on torture, said Assange is displaying “extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma” after being subjected to several years’ worth of “progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
He added that Assange was subjected to “oppressive isolation, harassment and surveillance inside the embassy,” as well as “deliberate collective ridicule, insults and humiliation.”
Assange appeared frail and bearded as he was dragged by police from the embassy, having had virtually no access to sunlight during his lengthy stint there.
Melzer added that Assange’s visits from his lawyers are being kept short and infrequent, and he is unable to access legal documents and case files, making it “impossible” for him to prepare his legal defense properly.
WikiLeaks in a statement said it has “grave concerns” about Assange’s health. The anti-secrecy group says he has been moved to the prison health ward. The group also says Assange has “dramatically lost weight” and recently “it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him.”
US has use massive propaganda and corruption to bring Assange down to the US to face espionage charges levelled against him.
A country that says it promote freedom of speech and the press and recognise the rights of his people but failed to recognised one when used is a tyrant state.
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