WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may soon be kicked out of Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been holed up since 2012. Several reports claim Ecuador is getting ready to withdraw its asylum protection for Assange after six years amid pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald reports that Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno is set to finalize the deal to turn Assange over in the coming days in London. Moreno, who was elected president in May, has made it quite clear he isn’t too fond of his country’s role in protecting Assange, who he has descried as a “hacker,” a “stone in the shoe” for his administration, and an “inherited problem.” Ecuador’s government was also particularly angry at how Assange’s support for separatist movements in Catalonia led to complaints from Spain. In a sign of the growing tensions between Assange and his hosts, Ecuador cut off Assange’s access to the internet and severely restricted his access to visitors earlier this year.
The Times of London reported last week that British officials were “locked in discussions over the fate of Assange.” And the editor in chief of Russian news outlet RT quoted a source who claimed Ecuador is getting ready to hand over Assange in “coming weeks or even days.” Greenwald, meanwhile, cites a source close to Ecuador’s government saying that “Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the U.K. within the next several weeks.” In fact, Assange’s eviction from the embassy “could come as early as this week.”
Amid the reports of an imminent eviction, video was posted online that showed how furniture was being removed from Ecuador’s embassy in London, which only increased speculation about Assange’s future.
Assange has been inside Ecuador’s embassy since he fled Sweden after accusations of sexual assault and rape. Prosecutors in Sweden have since dropped the charges although he could still face proceedings and jail time for violating bail conditions. More concerning for Assange, of course, is the possibility that the United States would call on U.K. authorities to arrest and extradite him over the leaking of classified documents. Sources close to Assange claim that the United States is pressuring Ecuador to evict Assange, including by threatening to block a loan from the International Monetary Fund if it continues to allow the WikiLeaks founder to live in its embassy.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter that if Ecuador does evict Assange from the embassy “it’s essential the UK not become party to any US effort to prosecute him for merely publishing classified information the same way journalists regularly do.”
Greenwald, meanwhile, notes that a call to extradite Assange to the United States could suddenly see journalists cheering on what is essentially attack on a free press. He explains:
If, as seems quite likely, the Trump administration finally announces that it intends to prosecute Assange for publishing classified U.S. government documents, we will be faced with the bizarre spectacle of U.S. journalists — who have spent the last two years melodramatically expressing grave concern over press freedom due to insulting tweets from Donald Trump about Wolf Blitzer and Chuck Todd or his mean treatment of Jim Acosta—possibly cheering for a precedent that would be the gravest press freedom threat in decades.
That precedent would be one that could easily be used to put them in a prison cell alongside Assange for the new “crime” of publishing any documents that the U.S. government has decreed should not be published. When it comes to press freedom threats, such an indictment would not be in the same universe as name-calling tweets by Trump directed at various TV personalities.