What Philip Hammond ought to tell the Ecuadorian foreign minister about Assange

The Ecuadorian foreign minister wants to talk to Philip Hammond about Julian Assange - this is what our foreign minister should tell him.

The Ecuadorian foreign minister wants to talk to Philip Hammond about Julian Assange – this is what our foreign minister should tell him. 

In a very well attended press conference yesterday in the Ecuadorian embassy in Central London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange revealed that he would soon be leaving the place he has called home for more than two years.

At a cost of around £7m to the taxpayer, Assange has been self-imprisoned since avoiding extradition on account of allegations made against him involving a 26-year-old (known as SW) in Enköping and a 31-year-old (AA) in Stockholm.

However it was reported last night by the Telegraph that Assange appears to have muddled his reasons for leaving, suggesting law changes regarding extradition. In a comment that speaks volumes about Assange, it was assumed by him that recent changes in the law reflected a realisation that, in his own words, “abuses of my rights” had been carried out.

The Home Office has now clarified that changes in the law will not affect Assange since they are not retrospective.

While changes made in Parliament now mean that formal charges need to be made against a person “before their liberty is deprived from them”, this will not apply to Assange – his being wanted by Sweden, now in its fourth year, will still be pursued.

So on the plus side, Assange still is duty bound to clear his name before a court in Sweden; this has not changed. On the other hand it will mean his various supporters emerge again from the woodwork to wax lyrical about the various conspiracies that keep this man bound up.

We only have to remember back in 2012 when John Pilger, the Philosopher King of the conspiracy theorists, claimed to have found the evidence as to Sweden’s, and America’s, grand plan. He mentioned one cable that supposedly calls into question Sweden’s “neutrality” that reveals its military and intelligence co-operation with NATO.

This link alone, without reference to its strength or what it actually means, was enough for Pilger to assume the worst: Assange would be tried in Sweden, sent immediately packing to the US where their intelligence agencies would wreak untold destruction over the leaker’s liberty.

However David Allen Green, the legal correspondent at the FT and someone who gave the Assange issue a great deal of expert attention, pointed out that “[a]ny extradition from Sweden to the United States would actually be more difficult … because it would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom.”

Did this stop the conspiracy theories being made, or the creepy appeals to “wisdom” from some of Assange’s supporters? Sadly not. It might be remembered that one George Galloway MP took to the airwaves to deliver this odious verdict:

“not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.”

You may think that, being a reasonable sort of person, Galloway would want to wait to see Assange clear his name before making too hasty a judgement. Not so. Galloway also went on to say:

“I don’t believe either of those women, I don’t believe either of these stories.”

What’s due process for anyway?

Unfortunately genuine heroes of the left were not immune either. The late Tony Benn made the following comments in 2011 at a Stop the War Coalition event (see 03:00 minutes in):

“the charge of rape simply doesn’t stand up to examination. First of all, the charges are that it was a non-consensual relationship. Well that’s very different from rape [which] I’m sure most people would understand to be the seizure by force of a woman for the gratification of a man’s need, and all that is said of Julian Assange is that without using a condom he was guilty of rape – and if that is the charge then I tell you a lot of people in this country would be guilty of rape on a daily basis [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER]”.

At the time the then Ecuadoran chief diplomat Ricardo Patino said that the rape charges levelled at Assange were “hilarious“. Taking a more professional line this time, Patino, now the Ecuador foreign minister, has said that his government would be looking to set up a meeting with Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary, to see if he can’t do anything to allow Assange a safe passage to Ecuador where he was granted full asylum on 16 August, 2012.

But should such a meeting take place, which itself would be a nonsense, Hammond should tell the Ecuadorian government the following: only when Assange has stood trial in Sweden should the option of safe passage to Ecuador or anywhere else be a matter of consideration.

As changes to the law on extradition don’t affect the Assange case, for him to be extradited to the US from Sweden would have to involve consent by the UK, but if he wants to make his plea for innocence anywhere it should be Sweden, where he is wanted for trial.

If he doesn’t listen to reason on this, perhaps he should have listened to those such as Andrew O’Hagan, a once described “supporter” of Assange. On the question of whether the rape allegations were a “honeytrap”, O’Hagan in his celebrated portrait of Assange for the London Review of Books, said:

“It was a trap he built for himself when he refused to go to Sweden and instead went into the embassy of a nation not famous for its respect for freedom of speech. He will always have an answer to these points. But there is no real answer. He made a massive tactical error in not going to Sweden to clear his name.”

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