2012-06-23 Dissecting the Smears: Assange's asylum bid

Julian Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19 to apply for political asylum. Since then, there has been mass coverage by the media, which often contains false and misleading information about his reason for applying, the threat he faces in the U.S., and the reaction from his supporters.

False: Julian Assange is seeking asylum to avoid facing allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden.

Julian Assange applied for asylum because of the threat of U.S. extradition and prosecution, not to avoid the allegations in Sweden.

But why do it now, when his extradition to Sweden was set to happen shortly?

The Swedish Prosecutor, Marianne Ny, issued a statement that said Mr Assange would be placed in prison immediately upon arrival in Sweden. This means he would be unable to enter an Embassy to seek asylum after his extradition.

Originally, Mr Assange was to have 14 days to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, after the UK Supreme Court ruled his extradition to Sweden. But the Crown Prosecution Service, under orders from the Swedish Prosecution, attempted to completely dispel this period of time to zero days, giving no opportunity to prepare an appeal submission.

The Swedish prosecution has refused all offers over the past 18 months to question Mr Assange via telephone, webcam, or in person at the Swedish Embassy in London, despite it being a perfectly legal and normal procedure. Mr Assange upholds his offer to be questioned while he is staying at the Ecuadorian Embassy as well.

Mr Assange has received no assurances from the Swedish, Australian, UK, or U.S. Governments that he would not be extradited to the United States after Sweden.

False: There is no evidence of a U.S. threat to Julian Assange.

Many people try to trivialize Julian Assange's concerns because an indictment has yet to be made public, but the evidence of U.S. legal action against WikiLeaks and its founder is overwhelming.

A Grand Jury into WikiLeaks has been active in Alexandria, Virginia since September of 2010. Grand Juries are a secret process which determine whether a criminal indictment will be issued. People such as David House, founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, have received subpoenas requesting their testimony before the Grand Jury. Because the Grand Jury is still active, an indictment cannot be made public.

Despite this, an email from the intelligence company Stratfor states that there is currently a sealed indictment against Julian Assange. In an interview with L'Espresso, Mr Assange said, "We already had three sources of information [on the indictment] before the information coming from the Stratfor emails."

Other subpoenas have been issued outside of the Grand Jury as well. There is an ongoing legal case involving the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that Twitter hand over records of WikiLeaks volunteers Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, and Rop Gonggrijp. The information requested by the subpoeana includes: "mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the 'means and source of payment,' including banking records and credit cards".

Furthermore, multiple supporters of WikiLeaks and friends of Julian Assange have been stopped and interrogated at U.S. airports. This includes Jacob Appelbaum, David House, and, most recently, Jérémie Zimmermann and Smári McCarthy. Both Mr Appelbaum and Mr House have had electronic possessions seized, while Mr Zimmermann and Mr McCarthy have been asked to become informers for the U.S.

Julian Assange has also been the subject of multiple death threats from high-level U.S. political figures including former presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and talk show host Rush Limbaugh. A full list of these threats is available at "People OK with Murdering Julian Assange". And, while it's not a death threat, the U.S. Vice President labeled Julian Assange as a "high-tech terrorist", which also warrants reasonable concern.

Many people have agreed that Julian Assange's concerns regarding U.S. extradition and prosecution are justified. This includes, but is not limited to: Australian journalist Phillip Dorling, U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald, human rights activist Bianca Jagger, and all signatories of this letter requesting Mr Assange be granted asylum, including directors Michael Moore, Danny Glover, and Oliver Stone, author Naomi Wolf, journalist Chris Hedges, and many, many more.

False: Those who put up bail for Julian Assange are upset because they will lose their money.

First of all, there is currently no evidence backing up the claim that the money provided for bail is going to be forfeited.

Secondly, those who provided sureties for Mr Assange have spoken out in support and understanding of his decision to seek asylum.

Tariq Ali:

I totally approve. Why the double-standards? A Chinese dissident becomes a folk-hero for reaching the US embassy, but a Western dissident doing the same re a South American embassy is not kosher. Fuck the money.

Phillip Knightly:

I would [provide bail] again. He felt as I do that he’s a victim of a conspiracy. He’s been found guilty of nothing. The Swedes want to plug him in irons as soon as he arrived.

Jemima Khan (who tweeted about misleading headlines about her statement):

For the record, in response to those asking about Assange & bail money....

I personally would like to see Assange confront the rape allegations in Sweden and the 2 women at the centre have a right to a response.

BUT there is no doubt that Assange has a real fear of being extradited to the US nor that the US gov is out to get WikiLeaks.

Michael Moore:

The Ecuadorian embassy in London has just given sanctuary to WikiLeaks' Jullian Assange. He is asking them for political assylum (which they had offered him in the past). Well, thank you Ecuador! IMHO, there is no doubt that if the UK sends him to Sweden, Sweden will send him to the USA. Sweden says they "just want to talk to him" about the accusations leveled at him (he has still not been charged with any crime). If Swedish police want to question him, there is an SAS flight that leaves Stockholm at 7:55 tomorrow morning (flight #525) to London. I'm sure the British authorities would have no problem with the Swedish police questioning Mr. Assange. Then Sweden can decide if it wants to charge him with a crime. Any and all allegations of sexual abuse by anyone and to anyone MUST be treated very seriously, and Mr. Assange should cooperate with the inquiry. But it appears that Sweden has little interest in these charges - what they really want is the ability to extradite Assange to America. And that, simply, must not happen.

Vaughan Smith:

We seem to welcome it when a Chinese dissident goes to an American embassy, but when an Australian dissident in London goes to an Ecuadorean embassy we try to suggest it's nuts.

I don't think we should be blind to [the possibility of U.S. prosecution]. He clearly believes that. We can't comment whether that's realistic, but I think we can accept that it's reasonable for him to believe that.

He is no fool. He is a clever man, and he is very committed to his work at WikiLeaks which he is convinced serves a social purpose. I can assure you that he's committed to carrying on, and that's what I believe is his main motivator.

Why should we automatically assume that justice is freely available to Assange in Sweden?

Considering the uniqueness of his situation, the Swedes could have attempted to reassure him and they haven't. They've done absolutely nothing to reassure him.

While John Pilger hasn't made a statement, he visited Mr Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy yesterday and commented on him being in "great spirits".

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