WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is wanted in Sweden on sexual assault charges. But his decision to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy is deeply hypocritical, given that Ecuador is one of the most repressive regimes in Latin America when it comes to press freedom.
Assange is concerned that, should he be extradited from Great Britain, the Swedish will not only prosecute him on trumped up accusations, they may then also shunt him off to the United States. From there he could be charged with leaking sensitive information – just as has happened to Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who passed classified information to WikiLeaks.
Ecuador's president Correa expresses his views on press freedom
The Ecuadorian government and Mr. Assange’s supporters see a vast conspiracy. But they are wrong. The Swedish charges are real, and not part of some honeypot. They involve a “Ms. A” and a “Ms. W”.
Ms. A, who organized Mr. Assange’s flight to Sweden, says that while Assange was staying at her flat in Stockholm he aggressively pulled off her clothes and snapped off a necklace. She tried to put some clothing back on, but Mr. Assange ripped them off again.
Now, maybe that is some fun-and-games. Or maybe it is assault. Either way, it should not be a big deal to show up in court and let the truth come out. Ms. A even makes the contradictory claim that it was “too late” and she had “gone along with it so far” so she let him undress her.
That hardly sounds like a trumped up story. Instead, it sounds complex and troubling – for both parties.
Ms. A then claims that she tried repeatedly to reach for a condom but that Assange stopped her by pinning her down. Did she explicitly say “no”? We don’t know. He then apparently released her to allow for condom use, but she claims he tampered with it somehow so that it was ineffective.
Mr. Assange has said that yes, he slept with Ms. A, and that he was not aware of a condom malfunction. There. How hard is that to say in court?
Ms. W’s account begins more innocently. She and Mr. Assange went to a movie, they kissed, and he fondled her. That evening at a party at Ms. A’s apartment another woman heard of Ms. A’s experience: a ripped condom, and “the worst sex ever” which had “also been violent.”
So, this is a little disturbing, but not exactly Jack the Ripper. In fact, Ms. A continued to allow Assange to stay with her, though she had told her friend – which has been corroborated – that she did not feel safe.
Then the day after the party Ms. W called Assange to meet him later than evening. They went back to her flat. They started having sex, and apparently, again, Assange did not want to use a condom, which resulted in Ms. W refusing sex. They both then fell asleep.
That evening they woke up and had sex, during which Assange “unwillingly” agreed to use a condom.
The next morning Ms. W went out to buy breakfast. Upon returning she got back in bed, and fell asleep. She awoke to find Assange having unprotected sex with her, at which point, as quoted by the Guardian newspaper, she “couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before."
Ms. W’s former boyfriend has told police that she had never had sex without a condom, and that it was “unthinkable” for her. As a result of the unprotected sex with Assange, she went to buy a morning-after pill and also went to a hospital to be tested for STDs. She contacted Assange and asked him to take a test, but he refused, claiming he was too busy.
Meanwhile, Ms. A had moved to another flat to be away from Assange, who had continued to make sexual advances. She and Ms. W. had by then compared notes, and Ms. A repeatedly called Assange to ask him to take an STD test. He refused. She then told him that if he didn’t, Ms. W. would go to the police. He interpreted this as blackmail, and again refused.
The police were informed. They quite reasonably told Ms. W that that she should just get Assange to take a test. As it became clear that the women were not going to quit, Assange attempted to go for a test but all the clinics were closed for the weekend.
By then it was too late – the story had been leaked to the Swedish press. When journalists asked Assange for a response, he tweeted: "We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks'. Now we have the first one." This was followed the next day by: "Reminder: US intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks as far back as 2008."
Such grandstanding is pathetic. It has continued, with Assange calling for Bradley Manning’s release from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy, as if his situation and Manning’s were somehow equivalent. But Manning’s horrendous circumstances (which include hours of solitary confinement – a form of torture) and his cause are weakened by Assange’s arrogance.
Assange is guilty of his own petulance and, perhaps, of being a cad. He may also be victimized by some rather Orwellian sex laws in Sweden, but for that he could have his day in court and expose the absurdity of it all. If anything, all this puffery is exposing Assange as a fool.
Perhaps the biggest folly of all is to hide in the Ecuadorian embassy. As Carlos Lauría, Americas Senior Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has written, the Latin American country is in no position to champion free expression.
Lauría, who has been interviewed by La politica in the past and who, in our opinion, has no political agenda whatsoever, has written that the Quito government’s decision to grant Julian Assange political asylum “comes at a time when freedom of expression is under siege in Ecuador.”
How bad? The CPJ considers president Rafael Correa’s press freedom record to be “among the very worst in the Americas.”
This view isn’t only the CPJ’s. It has been reinforced by Human Rights Watch, the Organization of American States, and the Ecuadoran press group Fundamedios. All of these organizations have concluded that the Correa administration is engaged in a campaign to silence its critics.
Worse, the CPJ has argued that Ecuadorian state media are smearing César Ricaurte, the head of Fundamedios and a leading defender of free expression.
The CPJ has come up with other striking examples, such as the recent shutdown of 11 local radio stations. Why? According to a CPJ review of the closures, “a majority of the stations had been critical of the government.”
Last year the CPJ also came out with a special report which found that the Ecuadorian government “had a record of filing defamation lawsuits in civil and criminal courts as a means of intimidating critics.”
Perhaps the biggest example was a case against El Universo, one of Ecuador’s major papers. Earlier this year Correa won a libel suit against the paper. Result? Three directors and a former editor were sentenced to three years each in prison and a total of US$40 million in damages.
They were later pardoned by the president, but the message was clear: don’t mess with the Correa administration. And it worked – the editor, Emilio Palacio, fled the country for fear of imprisonment.
And there’s more. Correa’s supporters have passed changes to Ecuador’s electoral law in the National Assembly that hamper press coverage during electoral campaigns. And, as is often the case in these repressive scenarios, the trend is not freedom’s friend: a communications bill is now under consideration in Ecuador that would give regulators wide discretion to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press.
(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)
(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)
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