They don’t make them much more bleeding heart liberal than me. I’ve written many times on human rights issues. Why, then, do I struggle to find much sympathy for the predicament in which Wikileaks founder Julian Assange finds himself?
Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuador’s London Embassy. He’s been there for two months after he applied for political asylum in that country. Ecuador expects to make its mind up today as to what to do with it. He went there after spending nearly two years fighting a bid to extradite him to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault.
If Ecuador, as expected, grants Assange political asylum, I think this would be totally against the spirit of what asylum is for. It’s not there to protect people from facing legitimate criminal charges. Those charges against him, of rape and molestation, are pretty serious and need to be answered.
It’s not as if Ecuador has a perfect record on human rights. This year’s Amnesty International report shows that its Government is not above locking its critics up.
The UK Government has said that it has the right to enter Ecuador’s Embassy to arrest Assange under the terms of the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987. This gives the Secretary of State the power to withdraw consent for an area of land to be treated as diplomatic premises if they think that it’s permissible under international law.
Entering the Embassy of another state is a very serious thing to do. There are good reasons, not least the protection of our own diplomats abroad, why premises are protected from the intervention of the host state. Stephen Glenn feels so strongly about this that he has suggested that he might leave the party if the Liberal Democrats in the Government allow Assange’s arrest on diplomatic premises.
I’d say what about the rights of the two Swedish women. Do they not have the right to have their cases taken seriously, for the person they say assaulted them to be brought to justice? Why is Assange more important than them? I find it extraordinary that Stephen can compare a few police nipping inside the Ecuador Embassy in London and picking up someone who is legitimately wanted for trial in Sweden and then leaving peacefully with 52 Americans being held hostage for 444 days in Iran between 1979 and 1981.
Entering a foreign embassy is a serious thing – but in this case, I think there’s a legitimate reason. Sweden has a robust justice system and he’ll receive a fair trial there.
There is an issue over his further extradition to the US over the Wikileaks issue. Certainly there are some people who want to see him put to death for that. The UK would insist, if he were extradited, that he would not face the death penalty. There is doubt on whether Sweden would make such a stipulation. Again, we have to leave Sweden to make its own decision on that – but, again, it’s Sweden, one of the most liberal places on the planet, and better than us on many counts. If we can’t extradite him there, we’d never send anyone anywhere.
Theresa May has to be absolutely 100% sure of her legal grounds – and after the muck up earlier this year over the deadline for Abu Qatada’s appeal, I expect she will make sure that every i is dotted and t crossed – but I see no reason why the Government should permit a nation state to give asylum on a spurious pretext to someone who may be guilty of rape.