Julian Assange plays pity card for Ecuador

On 18th August 2010, Julian Assange applied for a residence permit to live and work in Sweden, hoping to create a base for Wikileaks there, because of the country’s laws protecting whistle-blowers. Swedish law prohibits extradition for political crimes: Swden have repeatedly said that the ECHR would intervene if Assange were to be extradited to face inhuman or degrading treatment, such as Assange claims to fear in the US.

If Julian Assange were genuinely afraid of being extradited to the US more than anything else, he would have stayed in Sweden. He fled because he did not want to be questioned by the Swedish police about the allegations of rape made against him by two women in August 2010. He has spent two years trying not to go back to a country where he wanted to live and where he would be safe from being extradited – but where he might well spend up to six years in jail for rape, if the Swedish authorities decide to charge him and if he is convicted.

Government sources in Quito, Ecuador, confirmed today the President, Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado, intended to grant Julian Assange asylum in Ecuador. They also admitted that the offer of asylum was made to Assange several months ago – before he walked into the Ecuador embassy in Knightsbridge on 19th June, following “confidential negotiations” with senior staff at the embassy.

Apparently the British and Swedish governments were aware that Julian Assange had requested asylum in Ecuador and their embassy in Knightsbridge had discussed this.

  • The British government: “discouraged the idea”
  • The Swedish government: “not very collaborative”

On Monday 13th August, President Correa had told the state-run ECTV that he’d make a decision this week whether he would give Assange asylum, claiming “a large amount of material about international law had to be examined to make a responsible informed decision”.

Since 19th June, Julian Assange has been living in one room of the embassy – with a high-speed internet connection.

Reported in the Guardian this evening:

Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño indicated that the president would reveal his answer once the Olympic Games were over. But it remains unclear if giving Assange asylum will allow him to leave Britain and fly to Ecuador, or amounts to little more than a symbolic gesture. At the moment he faces the prospect of arrest as soon as he leaves the embassy for breaching his bail conditions.

“For Mr Assange to leave England, he should have a safe pass from the British [government]. Will that be possible? That’s an issue we have to take into account,” Patino told Reuters on Tuesday.

Two weeks ago Christine Assange, Julian’s mother, was invited to Ecuador on an official visit. She met with the President and the Foreign Minister and with Fernando Cordero, head of Ecuador’s legislature.

Other top political figures in Ecuador have been vocal about the government’s support of Assange’s bid. “Our comrade the president, who leads our international policy, will grant Julian Assange asylum,” said María Augusta Calle, a congresswoman of the president’s party, and former head of the Sovereignty, Foreign Affairs and Latin American Integration Commission during the 2008 Constitutional Assembly, during a meeting with Ms Assange.

Christine Assange:

Well, I don’t believe Julian’s capable of rape, and the women themselves have stated that the sex that they had was consensual and non-violent. You need to remember that in Sweden the definition of rape can include categories under consensual and non-violent sex. The tweets between the women and their friends indicate that they had no problem individually regarding their sexual contact with Julian. In fact, Woman S.W, when she was being interviewed by the policewoman Irmeli Krans was so upset that the police were going to allege that Julian was wanted for rape that she couldn’t finish her interview and didn’t sign her statement.

Ben Emmerson, one of Assange’s defense lawyers, described how Julian Assange

penetrating one woman while she slept without a condom, in defiance of her previously expressed wishes, before arguing that because she subsequently “consented to … continuation” of the act of intercourse, the incident as a whole must be taken as consensual.

In the other incident, in which Assange is alleged to have held a woman down against her will during a sexual encounter, Emmerson offered this summary: “[The complainant] was lying on her back and Assange was on top of her … [she] felt that Assange wanted to insert his penis into her vagina directly, which she did not want since he was not wearing a condom … she therefore tried to turn her hips and squeeze her legs together in order to avoid a penetration … [she] tried several times to reach for a condom, which Assange had stopped her from doing by holding her arms and bending her legs open and trying to penetrate her with his penis without using a condom. [She] says that she felt about to cry since she was held down and could not reach a condom and felt this could end badly.”

As in the case of the first incident, Emmerson argues that subsequent consent renders the entire encounter consensual, and legal.

No. There’s no evidence the two women consented, merely that they decided not to fight back. If events happened as Julian Assange’s own defense lawyer says they did, and presumably his version of events is from Assange himself, then Assange raped those two women.

From Fugitivus via Captain Awkward:

Rape isn’t about gender so much as it’s about power and privilege; but power and privilege are so completely tied to gender that that can sometimes get lost. I think sometimes it can be clearer to see how horrifying rape is, and how much it really is rape, when it’s done to somebody with power and privilege, somebody it isn’t supposed to be done to, somebody it’s not okay to do it to.

But mostly, I related this story because when Guy 1 told me why he didn’t fight back, that was the first time I really understood why some girls don’t. He put it so well: when somebody you knew, somebody you trusted, does something so frighteningly outside the boundaries of normal and expected behavior, that person becomes a stranger who is capable of anything. And, more importantly, a stranger who has already proven that they are willing to do anything.

I think if Julian Assange prefers to live in a room in Knightsbridge for the next few years, with access to the Internet, instead of facing the consequences of his actions in Sweden, well: let him stay there. In effect he has sentenced himself to jail without appeal. I can’t say it’s what he deserves, but it’s some consequence for his actions.

Doreen Lawrence, two days ago:

Had it been her own son accused of murder, she just cannot believe she would have tried to protect him from justice. “I couldn’t live with myself, because that would be living a lie. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to – and my children know this.” [Decca Aitkenhead] asks if Lawrence thinks they truly believe in their sons’ innocence. She sighs.

“Well I think those types of people, they’re…” She breaks off. After a long pause, “It’s like they feel that they have the right, or their sons have the right, to do whatever they want to do.”

Update, 23:46pm: “Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa on Twitter Tuesday denied reports in the British media that he has decided to offer Wikileaks founder Julian Assange asylum.” (NBC) Apparently the decision has not been made yet – the Guardian may be getting ahead of itself (or may be plain wrong, though I can’t think it’s likely).

Update, 15th August: Apparently Correa is going to make an announcement Thursday, and the UK have let Ecuador know that:

You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.

We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange’s presence in your premises, this is an open option for us.

It went on:

We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations.

In effect, if Ecuador continue to shelter Assange, the UK may decide to temporarily break off diplomatic relations with Ecuador. This would be an extreme action, and it is open to the government of Ecuador to describe it as an “unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act” but Ricardo Patino is not truthful when he says it would be “an attempt against our sovereignty”: that would only be the case if the UK entered the embassy while it was still legally an embassy.

If it ceases to be an embassy, and the diplomatic staff are allowed to leave peacefully, then there is no action against Ecuador sovereignty by entering a building in Knightsbridge to arrest a man wanted for questioning in Sweden.

(But see Carl Gardner on Julian Assange: can the UK withdraw diplomatic status from the Ecuadorian embassy?. Recommended.)

Update, 16th August. Julian Assange has been formally offered and accepted asylum in Ecuador. He is, of course, still inside the Ecuador embassy in Knightsbridge.

Jennie Kermode:

Of course, a martyr can be a political asset like any other, and many people are assuming that’s why Ecuador has taken him in (and now granted him asylum) – to make a grand statement and stick two fingers up at the United States. If I were them (and if I were Assange) I’d be more wary. The value of assets varies over time. Can he really guarantee that Ecuador won’t choose to sell him on in the future? In 2006 the IVK PAX study found that Ecuador had the fourth highest kidnapping rate of any country in the world. In such a context it would be easy for a valuable asset to disappear and turn up in American hands without anybody being able to prove who was responsible. No law could protect Assange from this.

PME200:

He is wanted for rape. People are still saying that he is wanted for “sex without a condom” which is an offence only in Sweden. Wrong. The European Arrest Warrant issued in respect of him clearly gives four offences that he is wanted for. They are one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one of rape.

Charles Crawford:

In other words, if a man-shaped diplomatic bag is seen emerging from the Ecuadorean Embassy and we prod it with a pitchfork to confirm that it contains only diplomatic items, a squeak of ‘Ouch!” would give us all the legal options we need to ask the Ecuador Embassy politely to undo it and show us what or who is therein. …..
By the way, I also gather that IF Assange is extradited to Sweden and then a US extradition request is sent to Sweden, HMG still have the legal right to be consulted on how that application is processed. Strange but true. So not only would Assange have the benefit of all Sweden’s legal and human rights checks and balances – he’d have ours too.

(Update: My own thoughts on Could the US extradite Assange?)

Stavvers:

So Assange is stuck indefinitely in a poky little building in Knightsbridge. If he so much as sets foot outside, he’ll be arrested and extradited to Sweden. In his bid to avoid accountability and due process, he has chosen to imprison himself. – Julian Assange has imprisoned himself indefinitely without trial

So let’s leave him there.


Update, 7th September

Good.

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12 Comments

Filed under Human Rights, Justice, Women

12 responses to “Julian Assange plays pity card for Ecuador

  1. Is Julian Assange guilty? 
    Do the allegations he faces constitute rape? 
    Does he have good reason to fear being turned over to the US? 

    I’ve discussed this a great deal online with people holding the full spectrum of views. I’ve taken some of their points onboard, and discarded others. Despite my strong support for Wikileaks I’ve tried hard not to be dogmatic on the above questions. Even now I don’t have solid views on any of them.

    However, the argument is not helped in any way by the vast bulk of reporting, which  very rarely sticks to the facts.

    Julian Assange did not flee Sweden. He remained there for 5 weeks. He asked for and was given permission to leave the country.

    • Is Julian Assange guilty?

      Unless his QC is lying.

      Do the allegations he faces constitute rape?

      Unless you have a mental definition of rape that dismisses mere “non-consensual sex with women” as “not rape”. Which many men seem to.

      Does he have good reason to fear being turned over to the US?

      No.

      One: I consider it less likely that Sweden would turn him over than the UK would.

      Two: The US has, quite literally, no basis to charge him whatsoever. Assange has committed no crime under US law.

      Three: Any attempt to transfer Julian Assange to an extrajudicial prison such as Guantanamo Bay would be high-profile and would be illegal under Sweden law and under EU law – and would be against Barack Obama’s current public policy.

      Four: I consider it within the bounds of possibility that the US might decide to kill him extrajudicially, but not if he’s in a Swedish jail: (a) there’s not a lot he can do with his network from jail (b) too many witnesses. But in any case that would be as true in Ecuador and the UK as in Sweden.

      So, no, I do not consider it in the least probable that Julian Assange is honestly afraid of being extradited to the US and that’s why he’s resisting going to Sweden.

      I think Assange is honestly afraid of being convicted for rape and doing time in jail, and that’s why he’s resisting going to Sweden. Given that Assange has, via his QC, described what he did to the two women and what he described was two acts of rape, it seems doubtful that he could be acquitted, though sure, he’s entitled to his day in court where he can be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

      Julian Assange did not flee Sweden. He remained there for 5 weeks. He asked for and was given permission to leave the country.

      He left on 27th September: his request for a residency permit was denied on 18th October: in November Stockholm District Court approved the request by the Director of Prosecution to detain Assange for questioning on “suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion” since he had not made himself available for questioning.

  2. The two acts of non-consensual sex are definitely rape. Penetrating someone while they are asleep without their consent is rape. Holding a woman down and preventing her getting access to a condom and forcing her legs open to penetrate her, that’s rape too. I genuinely don’t understand why some men cannot see that that is rape.

    I think Julian Assange should be brought to trial in Sweden for these two incidents of rape. Especially if he has actually admitted to them himself.

    However, I don’t think it sets a very good precedent to storm an embassy to get him (because people genuinely in need of asylum would then no longer be protected). I don’t think removing the building’s embassy status so they can go in and get him sets a very good precedent, for the same reason.

    I can see why some people might conclude that this is being pursued extra vigorously because of the inconvenience caused to governments by Wikileaks, and not because all alleged rapists should be brought to trial (after all, many many rape cases don’t get to court at all, and are frequently unfairly dismissed when they do get to court, as they turn into a character assassination of the victim) but that is no reason not to bring Julian Assange to trial now that he has admitted two counts of rape.

    • emby

      “Holding a woman down and preventing her getting access to a condom and forcing her legs open to penetrate her, that’s rape too.”

      Only if you do penetrate her in that situation. If you don’t then it is still a crime, and I would argue that it is a very serious one, but it’s not rape.

      If you later penetrate her with her full consent, that does not automatically create a retroactive rape.

      Having said that, if the choice was sex with or without a condom, no choice about the sex part, then yes, absolutely that is rape.

      Two important things.

      1. Your emotional response to an imagined situation does not make it rape.
      2. This is a matter for the courts to decide on, and in an ideal world they would do so.

      It’s not for us to call a man a rapist before his trial, although it certainly sounds very likely that he is guilty of several serious sexual offences, which may include rape, and I would not be at all suprised to see him convicted.

      If he is guilty, I very much hope that he is convicted.

  3. The US has demonstrated its ability to capture, detain and assassinate US and non-US citizens while on foreign soil. They make the decisions in secret, justified in ways that are not public, and they try to cover up these activities. Because of these choices by the US, the unintended consequence is to create a situation like this.

    I don’t think the British threat helped though. It started a news cycle in Ecuador that would bias Correa’s decision. He could have easily argued that the US extradition threat was not a real threat to Assange, and an insufficient case for asylum. Correa had no choice once the news cycle started painting things as an attack on Ecuadorian sovereignty.

    It was such a nice Olympics too.

    • I was so annoyed by the drama of “They’re going to storm the embassy!” that I wrote a much more positive description of what the UK had threatened than I now agree with.

      I think it would be extremely unwise for the UK to do anything to the Ecuador embassy. And I agree that it wasn’t sensible or ethical for the UK government to threaten that they might.

      I’m pretty sure that President Correa planned to give Assange asylum anyway, though.

  4. I’ve spent some time looking for a full transcript of what Assange’s lawyer, Ben Emmerson said at this hearing, but without success. However, a couple of excerpts from reports need to be taken into account.

    In the report you link to

    http://studentactivism.net/2011/07/12/assange-lawyer-concedes/

    “Even assuming that Emmerson is not vouching for the accuracy of these accounts but merely offering them as summaries of the charges against his client…”

    and in the Guardian’s live coverage that day

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/12/julian-assange-extradition-live-coverage

    “The case does not hinge on whether Assange accepts this version of events and others relating to other incidents because there are no charges against him, but whether the arrest warrant in connection with them is valid on “strict and narrow” legal grounds, Emmerson said”

    My reading of this is that Emmerson was not making any admissions on Assange’s behalf. He was taking the allegations made as they were provided by the Swedish authorities, and arguing that they did not constitute allegations which were valid under the European Arrest Warrant.

    My reading could very well be wrong – if the full statement exists it would be very interesting to see it.

    • Both women went to the police because Assange had had unprotected sex with each of them. Neither of them had consented to unprotected sex.

      “Frau W” is quite explicit
      :

      The following day, Miss W phoned Assange and arranged to meet him late in the evening, according to her statement. The pair went back to her flat in Enkoping, near Stockholm. Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. Assange had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

      Early the next morning, Miss W told police, she had gone to buy breakfast before getting back into bed and falling asleep beside Assange. She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

      That’s rape.

      Assange knew she did not consent to sex with him without a condom: he ignored what she wanted, and went ahead with what he wanted.

      What Assange did to “Frau A” I gather constitutes only sexual assault, not rape:

      Her account to police, which Assange disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

      According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

      Assange doesn’t, I gather, dispute any of that except he claims he didn’t rip the condom deliberately – which may be true: Assange may simply have put the condom on so badly that it ripped. If he hates having to wear condoms, then it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s very bad at it.

      What usually happens in cases like these is that the rapist gets away with it, because the only evidence is his word against hers, and he has to be presumed innocent in court. But that doesn’t make him less of a rapist: it just means he won’t spend time in jail for raping.

  5. To be clear, my point was not intended as questioning the womens’ statements, or whether the allegations amount to rape – that is for the court to decide one day, hopefully. I am pointing out that I don’t think the lawyer was admitting to anything as fact, he was saying that IF they were factual, then the EAW was still not valid. Of course, he lost that particular argument.

    Without a full transcript we can’t know.

    • To be clear, my point was not intended as questioning the womens’ statements, or whether the allegations amount to rape

      Not here: you did that on your blog.

      I am pointing out that I don’t think the lawyer was admitting to anything as fact, he was saying that IF they were factual, then the EAW was still not valid.

      As I understand it from the information available, the only part of their accounts Assange factually disputes is that he tore the condom deliberately.

      Without a full transcript we can’t know.

      But on a general point of principle and good faith, we can generally assume that rape victims are telling the truth about what happened to them – even if the rapist can’t be convicted in a court.

  6. Robert F

    “Two: The US has, quite literally, no basis to charge him whatsoever. Assange has committed no crime under US law.”

    You don’t know what evidence the US has, does not have, or will at some future point have, against Assange. If he did break US laws, do you really think it would be hard for them to gather enough evidence, over time, to bring a case?

    “On 18th August 2010, Julian Assange applied for a residence permit to live and work in Sweden, hoping to create a base for Wikileaks there, because of the country’s laws protecting whistle-blowers.”

    So what? That doesn’t mean that he intended to live there indefinitely; that just means he meant to establish his organization there.

    “Assange doesn’t, I gather, dispute any of that except he claims he didn’t rip the condom deliberately ”

    Wear do you gather that from? Have you heard Assange’s sworn testimony?

    What is your opinion as to why Sweden won’t question Assange in the UK, in person? There is a precedent for that on Sweden’s part. Ecuador has invited Sweden to question him from within the mission.

    Has Sweden ever bowed to US extradition pressure — even knowing extraditees faced torture in their destination countries? It has, on several recent occasions. Has the UK ever done so? I don’t believe so. In fact, it’s taken literally years to get Abu Hamzi and his gang of terrorist thugs extradited to the US to stand trial there. People like to denigrate the UK as the puppet of the US, but the truth is that it has a lot more leverage against the US than a small country like Sweden.

    There’s no question that the allegations are describing rape, are extremely likely to be accurate (CIA coercion of the allegations is possible but unlikely). Assange should stand trial for them, if it comes to that, and at the very least submit to questioning.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that Assange’s concerns about extradition to the US, and a lifetime of solitary confinement in a supermax prison are unfounded.

    • Wear do you gather that from?

      From detailed reports of Assange’s testimony. Cited.

      What is your opinion as to why Sweden won’t question Assange in the UK, in person?

      One: Why should they give Julian Assange special privileges? He can’t claim to be in any more danger in Sweden than he is in the UK. Two: At some point in the judciciary process, unless the Swedish justice system decides to drop all charges, Assange is going to have to go to Sweden. To indulge him by saying he can have the first stage of police questioning in the UK would just mean going through all of this again. No point.

      Has Sweden ever bowed to US extradition pressure — even knowing extraditees faced torture in their destination countries? It has, on several recent occasions.

      On one occasion, 11 years and 4 general elections ago, Sweden sent two Egyptian nationals back to Egypt at US request. This was wrong, obviously. The UK has a far worse record of complying with US requests, but that doesn’t seem to bother Assange: and Ecuador has a very bad record of human rights with regard to torture and freedom of information, but that doesn’t seem to bother Assange at all. But the parallel for Assange, if Sweden decided to do to him what they did to the two men in 2001, would be that he would be sent back to Australia. This could happen to Assange in any country. In 1992, Sweden refused to return a US citizen to the US, because the US wanted him for espionage and Sweden doesn’t extradite for political crimes.

      There’s no question that the allegations are describing rape, are extremely likely to be accurate (CIA coercion of the allegations is possible but unlikely). Assange should stand trial for them, if it comes to that, and at the very least submit to questioning.

      Cool, we agree.

      That doesn’t mean, however, that Assange’s concerns about extradition to the US, and a lifetime of solitary confinement in a supermax prison are unfounded.

      Sweden is, in that regard, a far safer place for Assange than the UK. That’s why he wanted to live there. Now he doesn’t. Because he does not want to face trial for rape and sexual abuse.

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