Assange and asylum: troubling questions for the UK

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The saga of Julian Assange seems to underline the hypocrisy and self-interest that characterise international politics.

I will admit at the beginning of this article that I lack the expertise to conduct a detailed analysis of Julian Assange’s case. However, judging by the obvious confusion of – and frequent use of the word ‘unprecedented’ by – various media outlets and legal experts, I’m not convinced that anybody has. What I do feel qualified to do is to register my unease at some of the elements of Assange’s case, the lack of clarity surrounding them and my disquiet concerning their morality.

First, and most obviously, the UK is intending to arrest Julian Assange the moment he steps outside of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, despite the fact that Ecuador has granted him Asylum. While it’s fairly clear that there might be legal provision for this, it’s also a morally dubious act. The government of Ecuador has made the decision that Julian Assange’s human rights would be acutely at risk if he was extradited to Sweden, hence the grant of asylum. Why does the UK believe that it knows better?

Second, the UK is insisting that it is obligated to extradite Julian Assange because, in a UK court of law, Assange’s contention that his human rights were at risk was rejected, after an appeal. But surely a judgement like the Ecuadorans’ demands that new attention should be paid to that decision? Instead, the UK is doggedly maintaining that it must do as the court demanded, despite the clear fact that the context within which the decision was made is radically different now that the Ecuadorians have granted Assange asylum. Why is the UK maintaining its position?

Third, why is Assange being extradited at all? After all, the Swedish authorities have not charged him for any criminal offence.

Fourth, why did the Swedish authorities not take up the numerous opportunities they have had to interview Assange on British or Ecuadorian territory in connection with his alleged sex crimes? If, after questioning, they then decided to charge Assange, surely the British government would have a much better case for following through with Assange’s extradition, although of course there is still the doubt concerning the asylum/embassy/territory issue to be overcome.

Fifth, why is the UK so determined to extradite Assange that it will risk a diplomatic storm of incredible intensity? What is at stake is the serious accusation of sexual assault and rape, for which there has been no charge. If Assange was any other man, would the Swedish not have interviewed him on British soil? Would the UK have been so keen to extradite him?

Sixth, what is the role of the USA in all of this? There is a strong suggestion that the USA is planning to indict Assange at some stage for espionage. In the eyes of the USA, Assange seems to be a dangerous criminal and a terrorist. In that case, it would seem that if there is a risk of Assange’s extradition from Sweden to the USA, he should not have to go to Sweden. We know how the US government treats terrorists. One only has to look as far as the current treatment of Bradley Manning.

It is difficult to resist concluding that the main reason for the UK’s dogged and aggressive pursuit of Julian Assange’s detention is diplomatic pressure exerted by the USA. Without that explanatory factor, it is difficult to understand, for the reasons listed above, quite the level of zeal with which the UK has ignored diplomatic convention and paid so little attention to one man’s human rights. If that is so, yet again the UK’s moral stance on international affairs (see William Hague’s moralising speeches concerning Syria and President Assad) is yet again (see Iraq) revealed to be little more than a site of hypocrisy, duplicity, and self-interest.

From a layman’s perspective, as someone seeking to forward a personal moral opinion based upon compassion and common sense, it seems sensible for Julian Assange to be questioned by Swedish investigators on UK soil in connection with his alleged crimes. If it turns out that Assange has a case to answer, and is charged, then his case against extradition should be fought in court again, in which case the Ecuadorian’s expert opinion that the risk to Assange merited political asylum should be taken into account. The UK should apologize to the Ecuadorians, and the USA, Sweden and the UK should clarify their positions. If Assange is extradited, tried in Sweden and found guilty, then he should feel the full force of Swedish law, and be roundly condemned by all as a disgusting man whose willingness to engage the world’s political powers for his own craven ends drags the reputation of justice, truth and transparency down to a sordid level.

For now, however, I am deeply disappointed in the way the UK has conducted itself, and find myself entrenched in the opinion that the country in which I live has nobody’s interests at heart but its own, and that those interests are very often not ones I feel that I share.

PHOTO/New Media Days/Peter Erichsen