Today, the Ecuadorian government announced that it is granting political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange has spent the last two months living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office is not only continuing to bar Assange from leaving the country (they claim their obligation is to extradite Assange to Sweden), but has also threatened to storm the Ecudorian embassy. "Under British law we can give them a week's notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection," said a Foreign Office spokesman. "But that decision has not yet been taken. We are not going to do this overnight. We want to stress that we want a diplomatically agreeable solution."
In response to these threats, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said simply, "We are not a British colony."
Since last night, pro-Assange protesters have been gathering outside the U.K. embassy to show their support for the "freedom fighter" and their disapproval of Britain's response to Ecuador's decision, which could have far-reaching consequences: If Britain succeeds in sending Assange to Sweden, where he faces questioning for allegations of sexual assault, he could then be extradited to the United States.
Explaining Ecuador's decision to offer Assange asylum in light of the pending charges, President Rafael Correa states, "The main reason why Julian Assange was given diplomatic asylum was because his extradition to a third country was not guaranteed; in no way was it done to interrupt the investigations of Swedish justice over an alleged crime."
As the founder of WikiLeaks, Assange has played a key role in the fight for transparency, releasing secret documents such as the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diary, the Collateral Murder video, U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, files pertaining to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and, most recently, the Syria Files.
While the standoff between Ecuador and Britain continues, Patino remains hopeful that British authorities will honor their decision. As he said in a statement released after the decision was announced, "We trust that the UK will offer as soon as possible the guarantee for the safe passage of asylum for Mr. Assange and they will respect those international agreements they have signed in the past."
This tension between Ecuador and Britain is nothing new—Ecuador, led by Correa since 2007, is part of the left bloc in Latin America, which Tariq Ali analyzes in Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope. Just hours before Ecuador's announcement, Ali spoke to Russia Today about Assange:
Meanwhile, others, such as Chavs author Owen Jones, argue that Assange must not be granted immunity. "Assange should go to Sweden to face the allegations," Jones states. "That doesn't mean abandoning the struggle to hold Western governments to account, and to force them to be open about how they act in our name. But this is a struggle that has become tragically compromised..."