No skating through Assange extradition

Editorial | Mary Ma 16 Apr 2019

WikiLeaks cofounder Julian Assange has hit the news headlines again and will continue to do so for a while yet.

His arrest in Britain last week was executed with high precision so that he couldn't return to his room, where he had reportedly installed "panic" buttons that he could activate if he found himself in danger of exactly such an arrest. What has Assange stocked up for self-protection?

Ecuador's decision to terminate his political asylum is opaque and leaves a host of questions to be answered.

Quito has scrambled to collate a number of reasons to justify the decision - from violations of in-house rules and abuse of embassy workers to concerns over Assange's health. Security camera footage was also released showing him riding a skateboard inside the embassy.

Ecuador's interior minister Maria Paula went further, alleging Assange had smeared feces on the walls and behaved weirdly - assertions both his lawyer and a friend have vehemently denied.

For someone who has been under virtual house arrest for seven years, it was only normal for Assange to want to exercise. In this case, he rode a skateboard and played football.

If not because of the political nature of the case, it would have been a simple matter of a landlord expelling a guest who was no longer welcome. However, in this case, the greater the effort to explain the termination of the asylum, the further the explanation would be from the truth.

It appears to me that Ecuador has been painstaking in its efforts to find faults with what the 47-year-old did to justify a decision that had little to do with them. Could the development be connected to a power struggle within the country?

The truth has yet to be told.

Assange had been holed up in the embassy since 2012. On that special day in 2012, he was trying to flee to Russia. Unable to escape pursuing British police, he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

What is in store for Assange now that he's been found guilty by a British court for jumping bail? Where will he be extradited to? To the United States to face accusations of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer? Or to Sweden to face a probable rape charge?

The alleged conspiracy happened during Barack Obama's presidency and many agreed that the leaks helped to tilt the balance of the 2016 presidential election away from hot favorite Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Immediately after Assange's arrest, US president Donald Trump expressed little interest in the issue, saying he knew nothing about the case. I doubt Trump would like to see Assange stand trial in the United States at all since it is uncertain how the trial may affect the 2020 presidential election.

Over 70 British members of parliament and peers have signed a petition to oppose his extradition to the United States. If Sweden applies for his extradition, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has to decide which country would take precedence.

Will Assange be handed over to the United States? Perhaps, but things aren't as straightforward as they appear to be.

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