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20 Sep, 2018 14:31

Ecuador pledged to not kick out Assange, but threat of US prosecution still serious – lawyer to RT

Ecuador pledged to not kick out Assange, but threat of US prosecution still serious – lawyer to RT

Despite widespread speculation a few months ago that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the country’s new leadership, his asylum seems to be safe for now, his lawyer told RT.

In July, there were numerous reports that Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, may revoke the political asylum given to Assange by his predecessor, Rafael Correa, as part of an effort to establish closer ties with the US. The threat never materialized, but his long-time lawyer said “anything could happen at any time.”

“Ecuador has made it clear in the past few months – after this wide-spread speculation that he would be forced to leave – that they will respect the asylum,” she said.

Assange remains cut off from all communications and kept in what is effectively solitary confinement with no access to outdoor areas. His health is deteriorating, and the UK authorities have made sure that he won’t get treatment without leaving the embassy, she said.

Assange was granted asylum in August 2012, skipping bail in the UK justice system. At that time, he was fighting extradition to Sweden, where he faced prosecution over a now-closed case over alleged sex offenses. He said he had to seek Ecuador’s protection because if forced to go to Sweden, he could be extradited to the US and face serious charges over his actions as WikiLeaks founder.

British authorities are prepared to arrest him for violating bail terms should he ever leave the embassy. His lawyer believes that the result would be the same – an unsealing of a secret indictment and an extradition to the US to stand trial for publishing US government secrets.

“This case has always been about the risk of US extradition and that is why Ecuador gave him asylum,” Robinson said. “We have seen in the past year the US attorney general say that prosecution of him is a priority. We’ve seen now Secretary of State, but then-Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo say that WikiLeaks is a hostile non-state intelligence agency and that they will ‘take them down’ and that Julian would not benefit from the First Amendment protection should he go to the United States.”

Robinson added that her client would be happy to face whatever punishment the UK justice system would deem necessary for skipping the bail, but he would not do it at the risk of being sent to the US for what he expects to be an unjust prosecution there.

“We know that Chelsea Manning, the alleged source of WikiLeaks material, was subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, according to the UN Special Rapporteur. And we are concerned that Julian, if he is sent to the US, would face a long, drawn-out process, and it would take many years before we are able to make the arguments that we know should win,” she said.

Assange believes that publishing classified materials, however embarrassing they are to a government, is protected by the fundamental right to freedom of speech. Many US officials depict WikiLeaks as traitorous spies, especially after the website published stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee amid the 2016 presidential election. The publication, they claim, was part of a Russian effort to damage the US, an allegation that both WikiLeaks and Moscow have denied.

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