Recently opinions seem to be split on whether Julian Assange is a freedom fighter or a sex criminal. The situation is interesting and there are arguments going both ways. My stance is narrowly towards that he’s probably genuinely trying to avoid extradition for fear of incarceration or even execution in the US. Many people seem to think this is an exaggerated position to take, so I’ll try to justify it.
It is argued that, no matter how noble his fight for freedom of the press, he is avoiding trial for accusations of rape and sexual molestation. If he were innocent, it is claimed, he should have nothing to hide. Yet nobody seems to consider the possibility of trying him while he’s in the UK or Ecuador. Modern technology allows us to be connected online. The Swedish prosecutors want to get hold of him for interrogation — why don’t they offer to do that remotely? Why would they make the ruckus before he is found guilty unless they wanted him for another reason?
Assange made proper use of the legal instruments available to him under UK law to appeal against his extradition, without success. Clearly, goes the argument, the extradition is legal and proper. Well, first of all, it doesn’t take much under the relevant extradition treaties — it certainly doesn’t require any evidence of criminal behaviour. But more importantly, we have already seen frivolous extraditions go through — just look at Kim Dotcom. For those who don’t know, his family house in New Zealand was violently raided by armed police flying in by helicopter — and for what? For creating the website megaupload.com. The US have clearly demonstrated that they are willing and able to go to absolutely over-the-top lengths for something as ridiculous as supposed incitement to infringe copyright. Julian Assange is another level up from that: he helps whistleblowers publish secret material that exposes the US government as a club of organised war criminals. With this background, the argument that says that any other accused rapist would be considered to be escaping justice and somehow only Assange manages to convince everyone of the story of the politically persecuted, is very naïve — the insinuations that the sex accusations might be a US ploy don’t sound all that ludicrous anymore.
It is true that Sweden has laws in place to protect the rights of its citizens (or even foreigners, which Assange would be), but the argument that he therefore has nothing to fear doesn’t hold ground as soon as you remember the US’s seizure of The Pirate Bay, a Swedish website that explicitly ensured it was operating within the bounds of Swedish law. Clearly, even Sweden is willing to sweep its own laws under the rug when the big bad American superpower comes knocking on its doors.
A lot of people collected a lot of money to pay for Assange’s bail. They are now miffed, it is claimed, that he jumped the bail to flee to the Ecuadorean embassy. But let’s be honest, what did you think he was gonna do with the bail once it became clear his extradition appeals would be unsuccessful? I’m convinced at least a sizeable portion of those supporters knew what they were doing.
Claims that Sweden and all other EU countries do not extradite to countries that employ capital punishment are simply false. There are clear extradition treaties in place with the US.
It is true that Ecuador isn’t the most liberal country, especially not when it comes to freedom of the press there. It is also entirely possible that Correa and Patiño saw this as their chance to upgrade their country’s international reputation without actually having to implement any real freedoms. Indeed I too am skeptical about their motivations, but that doesn’t change the fact that they seem to be providing Assange with the basic safety that all other countries are denying him. Of course it’s entirely possible that Ecuador will suddenly turn around and extradite him to the US, which would only confirm everyone’s fears.
I would be delighted to hear your views on this in the comments!