Julian Assange waits for Ecuador’s election to decide his future
Guillermo Lasso, the leading opposition candidate, has vowed that if he wins, the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the Ecuadorian embassy in London will be up.world Updated: Apr 22, 2017 07:55 IST
For Ecuador’s 15 million inhabitants, Sunday’s presidential election run-off will pose a fundamental question — whether to continue with a leftwing government that has reduced poverty but also brought environmental destruction and authoritarian censorship, or to take a chance on a pro-business banker who promises economic growth but is accused of siphoning money to offshore accounts.
But they are not the only ones for whom the result will be critically important. In the country’s embassy in London, Julian Assange will be watching closely to see if his four and a half years of cramped asylum could be coming to an abrupt, enforced end.
Guillermo Lasso, the businessman and leading opposition candidate, has vowed that if he wins, the WikiLeaks founder’s time in the embassy will be up. Lasso has said he would “cordially ask Señor Assange to leave within 30 days of assuming a mandate” , because his presence in the Knightsbridge embassy was a burden on Ecuadorian taxpayers.
His government opponent, Lenin Moreno, has said Assange would remain welcome, albeit with conditions. “We will always be alert and ask Mr Assange to show respect in his declarations regarding our brotherly and friendly countries,” Moreno said.
The most recent polling showed Moreno ahead of his rival, though earlier polls had Lasso in the lead, and many analysts caution that the results are within the margin of error.
Could this weekend really trigger the beginning of the end for Assange’s extraordinary central London refuge? Neither Lasso’s victory, nor precisely what he would do if he won, are certain (he later softened his position to say Assange’s status would be “reviewed”).
But the Australian’s legal team are nonetheless extremely worried.
“We are obviously very concerned that any candidate would threaten to undermine the protection that the Ecuadorian state has granted Julian,” says Jennifer Robinson, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers who is a member of Assange’s UK legal team. “No government should play politics with the granting of asylum. It’s a legal protection provided for under international law, Ecuador has granted that protection, they have recognised him as a refugee, and now they have obligations to protect him whatever happens in the elections.”
Assange’s team are reluctant to be drawn on what legal avenues they might be able to pursue, but he is understood to have instructed lawyers in Quito, while others are looking at whether they may have potential options through the Inter-American and European courts of human rights.
But according to Arturo Moscoso, an Ecuadorian lawyer and academic, “No organisation, no law and no person can prevent the president from revoking the status of political asylum.” His asylum was granted by a presidential decree, says Moscoso, and can just as easily be removed by one.