Julian Assange is free at last to leave the Ecuador embassy in London, now that the Swedish authorities have dropped charges against him. Hurrah.
Or not, as the case may be:
“Today is an important victory for me and for the UN’s human rights system but it by no means erases the years of detention without charge in prison, under house arrest and almost five years here in this embassy without sunlight, seven years without charge while my children grew up without me. And that is not something I can forget, it is not something I can forgive.”
“While today is an important victory and an important vindication, the road is far from over, the proper war is just commencing,” he said. “The claim by the UK that it has a right to arrest me for seeking asylum in a case where there have been no charges is simply untenable.”
What exactly has happened now? In such cases one turns to the Tweets of David Allen Green for learned counsel, and he points us to the Swedish prosecutor’s statement. It boils down to a decision not to proceed for now as things have got stuck and so ‘proportionality’ of effort comes into play:
No finding of innocence, or finding of any kind. An administrative decision to stop expending resources where no clear path to extradition.
No exoneration, no acquittal, no vindication. No change of substance at all. Just a decision on proportionality by Swedish prosecutor.
So, what now?
When J Assange steps outside the Ecuador embassy into the balmy air of central London, will the nearest policeman nod politely and let him go about his business? Or will he be viciously arrested and charged with skipping bail and wasting huge sums of taxpayers’ money? Or perhaps he’ll be arrested and transferred to the USA to face all sorts of charges for conspiring to steal classified information? The proper war is now commencing!
Let’s see what always helpful RT has to say about this. And lo!, they have asked former UK ambassador Craig Murray for a view. Craig of course always rises to the occasion. When there’s nonsense to be spouted, he spouts:
RT UK police have said they will detain Assange if he leaves the embassy. Could that then lead to his extradition to the US?
Craig Murray, former UK diplomat and whistleblower
The suspicion must be that those papers already exist in the crime prosecution service in the UK and that the US and the UK are sitting on them. There are tens of thousands of people wanted for jumping bail in the UK. And they don’t have police officers sitting around waiting to catch and arrest him. So, there is another agenda behind their wanting to do this. And it would make me suspect that there have already been at the very least conversations between the Americans and the UK over extraditing him to the US.
It should also be said that the principle of arresting somebody for jumping bail when they went to claim political asylum is an interesting one. Because by definition people who claim political asylum are being persecuted in the country they are fleeing from. You are abnegating the whole idea of asylum if you are saying that the domestic charge they face takes precedence over the award of asylum. This is absolutely contrary to the spirit of the finding of the UN working group on that grounds, for example …
It shows that the UK is effectively a vassal state. We’ve abnegated our ability to defend people in our own jurisdiction against American claims of jurisdiction, and the right of UK courts to access the sense of any claims of extradition. It’s an appalling and shameful arrangement.
Let’s look at this in detail.
There are tens of thousands of people wanted for jumping bail in the UK. And they don’t have police officers sitting around waiting to catch and arrest him. So, there is another agenda behind their wanting to do this
Credit where it’s due. Craig has a point on the facts. Lots of people in the UK do ‘jump bail’. But most of them do not conspire to steal US secrets that might directly damage UK interests when splashed by malevolent people on the Internet. So, yes, there is another agenda at play here.
And it would make me suspect that there have already been at the very least conversations between the Americans and the UK over extraditing him to the US.
Golly! The perfidious Brits and Yanks actually talk about such tedious things as upholding the law. Whatever next?
It should also be said that the principle of arresting somebody for jumping bail when they went to claim political asylum is an interesting one. Because by definition people who claim political asylum are being persecuted in the country they are fleeing from.
RUBBISH. They are claiming that they are being ‘persecuted’. That’s not the same thing.
In Assange’s case he scampered into the Ecuador embassy (a) to avoid being arrested under well established European procedures for investigating a crime, and (b) to avoid being deported to the USA to face other criminal charges there . That is NOT ‘persecution’.
You are abnegating the whole idea of asylum if you are saying that the domestic charge they face takes precedence over the award of asylum.
MEGA-RUBBISH. You are in fact ‘negating’ the whole basis of international law as reciprocal arrangements between sovereign states if you say that anyone charged with a criminal offence in state A can scuttle into the nearby embassy of state B and thereby claim asylum to avoid prosecution. There is no reason in law or principle to say that a claim to asylum by a fugitive from the law trumps (sic) the rights of a sovereign state to uphold its own laws on its own territory.
This is why no states in the world outside Latin America recognise the right of ‘diplomatic asylum’ (ie the legal right of a citizen of state X to claim asylum in the embassy of state Y on state X’s territory). If that citizen runs into the embassy to escape state X’s laws, s/he can sit there until s/he comes out and then face the consequences, whatever they may be. The embassy premises are inviolable under international law. But that’s it. A deal might be done between state X and state Y around the case, eg to let said person leave state X’s territory without arrest. Or it might not be done. But that state X citizen is still on state X’s territory, and so subject to state X’s law.
Let’s say that a Russian (Boris) is suspected by the Russian authorities of murder, rape, and leaking secrets to the Americans. Boris gets in to the UK embassy in Moscow and claims asylum. In the parallel universe inhabited by Craig Murray, the UK ambassador can breeze round to the MFA to tell the Russians that Boris has claimed asylum and been granted asylum by the UK, and so the Russians need to stand nicely aside as the embassy drives Boris to the airport and he flies to freedom. If the Russians don’t like it they are “abnegating the whole idea of asylum by saying that the domestic charges Boris faces take precedence over the award of asylum!”
What could go wrong?
Craig has more:
This is absolutely contrary to the spirit of the finding of the UN working group on that grounds, for example …
Here Craig is referring to the absurd conclusion in 2015 of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that J Assange’s dash to the Ecuador embassy to avoid the law means that the UK/Sweden are arbitrarily detaining him:
Since August 2012, Mr. Assange has not been able (sic) to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy and is subject to extensive surveillance by the British police.
The Working Group considered that Mr. Assange has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth prison which was followed by house arrest and his confinement (sic) at the Ecuadorian Embassy.
No-one serious takes this seriously. And insofar as there is any shred of a legal case here in his favour, all J Assange has to do is walk out of the embassy and launch a legal battle to thrash out the issues properly.
Craig concludes with typical Craigian über-nonsense:
It (sic) shows that the UK is effectively a vassal state. We’ve abnegated our ability to defend people in our own jurisdiction against American claims of jurisdiction, and the right of UK courts to access the sense of any claims of extradition. It’s an appalling and shameful arrangement.
ÜBER-RUBBISH. In fact simply NOT TRUE. As and when Assange is arrested in the UK and liable to be deported to the USA, the mother of all legal battles in the UK courts themselves will take place over exactly that!
In short, J Assange will be ‘confined’ at the Ecuador embassy for a while longer.
Imagine the Ecuadoreans’ surprise when they realise that even though the Swedish charges have been ‘dropped’ he plans to demand their hospitality indefinitely until he gets all possible legal guarantees from pretty much everyone. It takes a heart of stone not to laugh.