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Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa granted Wikileaker Julian Assange political asylum Thursday in a bid to whitewash his own image as an oppressor of free speech. The theatrical Correa called for a gathering of Latin America’s leftist cadre to confront any backlash, declaring, “No one is going to terrorize us!”
In June, Assange jumped bail in London after exhausting all appeals in British courts in his effort to evade extradition to Sweden, where he faces several separate rape and molestation accusations. He has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where, according to published reports, he continues to direct his Wikileaks enterprise.
The British government reacted to Ecuador’s decision today by repeating its obligation to extradite Assange, who has exhausted his appeals in the local courts and is now a fugitive. Britain’s Foreign Office said it would continue to seek a “negotiated solution,” but it alluded to the laws governing diplomatic property. Ecuadorean authorities feigned outrage at the suggestion that British authorities might violate the immunity of their embassy in London.
Here’s were the hypocrisy kicks in. Ecuador – a country with one of region’s most politicized and corrupt judicial systems – claims that Assange can not find justice in the British, Swedish or US courts.
Ecuador wraps itself in the rule of law in defending Assange, while the Correa regime has mounted a relentless assault on the country’s democratic institutions and independent courts since he took power in 2007. Ecuador is clearly using the Assange case as a cudgel against the United States, although the man has never been charged in U.S. courts. And Ecuador pretends to be a promoter of global free speech by protecting the Wikileaks founder, while Correa has used his own country’s courts, regulators and police to harass what’s left of Ecuador’s independent media.
By the time Assange entered the Ecuadorean embassy, Correa had already come under intense international criticism for his attacks on free. One of his first assaults came in 2008, when he sent armed police to occupy two popular television stations (as well as 200 other companies) belonging to the Grupo Isaias, which he considers a political foe.
Another case involved a personal lawsuit brought by Correa last year against the owners and editor of the Guayaquil newspaper, El Universo, over a critical column. Correa’s kangaroo courts faithfully delivered a $40 million judgment in his favor, in an opinion that many suspect was drafted by the president’s own legal counsel. [ http://www.cpj.org/2012/02/el-universo-sentence-a-dark-precedent-for-free-pre.php ]
Even since the Assange circus brought Correa’s sorry record under scrutiny, on July 28, his government announced that it would no longer issue lucrative publishing contracts to “mercantilist” newspapers and television stations. Milton Coleman, president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and senior editor of The Washington Post, observed that such policies “to benefit some media and punish others” violate of regional norms protecting independent journalism. The IAPA also has expressed great concern that the Correa regime has threatened to shut down the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundamedios), which has lodged formal complaints before the regional authorities regarding abuses of press freedom.
In an even more brazen attack launched late last month, government labor regulators raided the Quito offices of the venerable Vanguardia magazine – seizing computers and other property. The magazine’s owner characterized the action as a “political reprisal.” Reporters Without Borders noted that the raid effectively silenced the weekly publication known for its investigative reporting, noting in a statement, “The list of closed or embargoed media has been growing….”
To his immense credit, a stalwart liberal in the U.S. Senate, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has been a vocal critic of Correa’s campaign to “silence his critics” in the media and to hamper the work of the region’s watchdog on freedom of expression. “Personal attacks and inflammatory charges by top officials weaken democratic discourse and have no place in a country with a long commitment to civil liberties,” Leahy said in a statement to the Senate earlier this month.
By strutting on the world stage as an advocate for Assange, Correa hopes to launder his image as a repressive autocrat. By manufacturing a confrontation with Britain and the United States, he is preening to replace the cancer-stricken leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, as the leader of Latin America’s incorrigible left.
The sad fact is that behind this whole affair are two misfit hypocrites hiding their sordid and self-serving agendas. Justice will be done if they are made to answer for their abuses.
Roger Noriega held senior positions in the State Department in the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-05) and is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His firm, Vision Americas LLC represents U.S. and foreign clients.