Since 2012, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London trying to evade a warrant for his arrest from the Swedish government on sexual assault charges. The Ecuadorans granted him asylum because he said he feared being handed over to the American government for exposing millions of classified documents.
Apparently, Assange has overstayed his welcome. According to The Intercept, the new Ecuadoran president, Lenin Moreno, is prepared to transfer custody of Assange to the British.
A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement.
The consequences of such an agreement depend in part on the concessions Ecuador extracts in exchange for withdrawing Assange’s asylum. But as former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly “subservient” and “submissive” posture toward western governments.
It is thus highly unlikely that Moreno – who has shown himself willing to submit to threats and coercion from the UK, Spain and the U.S. – will obtain a guarantee that the U.K. not extradite Assange to the U.S., where top Trump officials have vowed to prosecute Assange and destroy WikiLeaks.
The central oddity of Assange’s case – that he has been effectively imprisoned for eight years despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime – is virtually certain to be prolonged once Ecuador hands him over to the U.K. Even under the best-case scenario, it appears highly likely that Assange will continue to be imprisoned by British authorities.
Swedish prosecutors dropped the sexual assault charges against Assange last year and he faces only a “failure to surrender” charge in Sweden. But the Trump administration would love to get their hands on Assange and make an example of him.
The damage WikiLeaks has done to U.S. interests around the world is considerable and hauling him into court might discourage others who think it’s perfectly OK to leak classified material.
Would Great Britain do the U.S. a favor and extradite Assange? The hacker will make the argument that his life is in danger in the U.S. from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that want revenge for what he exposed. It’s not impossible to imagine, but it’s highly unlikely. Assange would be well protected before his trial and in prison, where he would be likely to serve many years for his crimes.
Making heroes out of hackers, no matter what they expose, is offensive to the very idea of privacy. Assange is a criminal. Let’s hope the UK and U.S. treat him that way.