Assange Should Have Picked The Russian Embassy

UK police descend on Assange’s embassy refuge.

According to the Ecuadorians, their Embassy was threatened with a revocation of its status as Ecuadorian sovereign territory in the case that President Rafael Correa offers Julian Assange political asylum. This would clear the way for PC Plod could go in and fish out Assange. Presumably this is to avoid breaking one of the cornerstones of international law, satisfying its letter while raping its spirit. Truly fascinating the lengths and lows to which Britain is prepared to go to satisfy its puppet masters.

My initial thoughts are:

(1) Assange should have chosen the Russian Embassy. Ecuador is small and doesn’t have clout. Russia (or China, for that matter) wouldn’t have handed over Assange either, for the propaganda coup if little other reason, and even as cringingly obsequious a country as the UK would have hesitated to take them on so directly.

(2) A timely reminder that Assange is wanted for questioning (not charged) on a crime that it is not even a crime in the UK itself. I wonder if there is anybody, anybody at all, who is still willing to argue that his case is not entirely political?

(3) One would hope that Ecuador does not tolerate any British violation of its sovereignty and mounts a like response – and that countries like Venezuela, Argentina, and (preferably, though highly improbable) Russia and China join them in solidarity. But either way one of the good things about this is that it will make clear to any lingering doubters in non-puppet countries like Russia that Western rhetoric on human rights and international law only goes as far as it benefits them.

EDIT 8/16: And asylum was granted.

Comments

  1. Imagine the response if Iran threatened to invade an embassy in Tehran to nab an asylum applicant they wanted?

    This sets an appallling precedent and is just unbelievable. Hard to see how Assange can be important enough to violate such a fundamental principle of international law. Embassies are traditionally sacrosanct even between countries at war.

  2. georgesdelatour says:

    How would Russia treat a Russian Bradley Manning?

    • Much like the US does though his sentence would be something like 10 years and not the 50 or 60 that American prosecutors are gunning for. However if you notice I have not mentioned Bradley Manning once around here. He is a criminal. Assange however isn’t.

      • “alleged” AK.

        Your are legally correct that if he is found guilty of having passed classfied information, he’ll definitely do time.

        • Well, yes, “alleged”, but only in legalistic terms, and I’m not a high-profile enough blogger for me to have to bother much with caveats. I have studied the case and the evidence against Manning is overwhelming.

  3. georgesdelatour says:

    Based on everything we know about him, it’s likely that, if Wikileaks had existed in 1944, Assange would have published the advance plans for Operation Overlord.

    • Come now. Are you saying that you buy into the neocon inanity that the Afghan/Iraq interventions are some kind of “Fourth World War”? I expected higher of you. :)

      Oh and he’d have leaked the Axis and Soviet plans too. Wikileaks leaked all the Syria emails and didn’t give them the chance to redact them unlike the case with State Department cables.

  4. Isn’t it a bit ironic that Sweden prosecutes Asange and at the same time fiercly condemns prosecution of political prisoners in Belarus…

    Don’t think Assange should have choosen Russian embassy – would make it even easier for liberal media to paint him as Russian stooge. A neutral third country better idea imo.

    • Jennifer Hor says:

      Assange should have picked a country like Argentina, Venezuela or Brazil: some country with a large enough economy which exports significant amounts of oil, other energy resource, rare earth minerals or food product that the US and UK rely on heavily and which can threaten to cut off the supply if Assange is threatened.

      Come to think of it, Mongolia could have been just as good a choice as Ecuador: it could cut off exports of rare earths to the West and if threatened itself with sanctions, Russia or China could assist it.

      • Especially Argentina, they would welcome an opportunity to irritate Britain!

      • Mongolia had very similar diplomatic crisis with Britain a few years ago.

        Mr. Bat Khurts, a Mongolian spy chief, was invited by the British Government to London for talks on anti-terrorism cooperation and was arrested at the Heathrow airport despite possessing a diplomatic passport.

        He was wanted in Germany and France for leading a team of Mongolian secret agents who kidnapped of a Mongolian national suspected of terrorism in France.

        Mr. Khurts spent a year in London prison awaiting extradition to Germany. Mongolian government strongly protested British actions, but was unable or afraid of taking any retaliatory measures against UK.

        Eventually he was extradited to Germany, but Germans cut a deal with Mongolian government and released him.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_Khurts

  5. The most logical choice would have been Iceland where Wikileaks already has connections, bad blood with Britain over the banking scandal that hit Iceland tied to British banks and hosts Tibetan political organisations so it would be hypocritical of them to not give Assange asylum.

    Although that it not uncommon of a EU country to be hypocritical with the case of supporting Al-Qaeda linked regimes in the Balkans letting jihadist recruit Muslims from Mosques with intelligence services support while warning of the Muslim threat after 9/11 or Sweden’s latest teddy bear stunt in Belarus illegally entering Belarusian airspace from Lithuania flying a light aircraft.

  6. Well why didn’t he? He isn’t stupid, and had good contacts in RT, so he must have asked, and Putin must have refused.

    • Maybe, maybe not. I really honestly doubt that Putin would have refused. It would be too big of a propaganda coup to pass up, especially as there is no love lost between Britain and Russia.

      I think ideology played a part. Assange is perpendicular to Russian views, not aligned with them. He is against Assad. He doesn’t like hierarchical power structures, including of the kind operating in Russia. Defecting to Russia he might as have seen as too big a betrayal of his core values.

      Ecuador (at least in rhetoric) is far more concerned with stuff like giving legal rights to the environmental, social justice, people’s democracy, etc. Nor does it have the toxic reputation of Venezuela, Russia, China, and (increasingly) Argentina.

  7. It seems that I am completely naive but I continue to be astonished at the extent to which the US and its allies no longer believe that international law applies to them. If anybody had told me even yesterday that the British government would actually threaten to invade an embassy in London of a country with which Britain has diplomatic relations I would simply not have believed it.

    The best discussion of the legal aspects of this is by Craig Murray who was himself a British ambassador.

    http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2012/08/americas-vassal-acts-decisively-and-illegally/

    Though I am no expert in this area for the record I understand that even if Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Ecuador and revoked the embassy’s diplomatic status the embassy and its staff and those within the embassy who have been granted the protection of Ecuador including Assange would still enjoy diplomatic protection and an invasion of the embassy to arrest Assange would still be illegal.

    As to whether Assange should have chosen the Russian embassy, the short answer is that he obviously made a mistake by not doing so but was he was doubtless concerned that if he did go to the Russian embassy he would lose the support in the US and Britain and elsewhere of many of his supporters who buy into the idea that Russia is a dictatorship and who would doubtless see an escape to Russia as a betrayal. In fairness to Assange I am sure he no more believed than I did that Britain would treat its obligations under international law so contemptuously.

    • Apparently the Brits are citing Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 in support of their position.

      I do not believe this applies. National law cannot triumph over international law, in this case the 1961 UN Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which quite explicitly in Article 22 states: “1. The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission… 3. The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.

      While the UK might argue otherwise, no exceptions to this have been generally accepted. Even the EE Communist regimes respected this. I recall a story (forgot which country) in which a dissident was holed up in a British or American embassy for half a decade before being allowed safe passage out of the country.

      EDIT: Just read Craig Murray’s post on the matter. It seems like I made the same general points.

    • Jennifer Hor says:

      Alex,

      Carl Gardner wrote a piece which has been reprinted in The Guardian. Here it is plus comments at his own blog if you’re interested in reading it:
      http://www.headoflegal.com/2012/08/15/julian-assange-can-the-uk-withdraw-diplomatic-status-from-the-ecuadorian-embassy/#comments

      You may be interested also in reading Extradition Treaty TIAS 10812 signed by Sweden and the US in 1983 which came into force in 1984 as this is the document that Assange must be afraid of if he is extradited to Sweden. Relevant article is Article II. The US intend to charge Assange for “conspiracy to espionage” which would be covered by paragraph 3 in Article II.
      http://www.mydropintheocean.org/the-world/organisations/wikileaks/tis10812

      • Dear Jennifer,

        Thank you very much for all this.

        This is not an area of the law of which I have any experience. However Section 1(4) of the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 makes it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State can only revoke the diplomatic protection of embassy premises where he is satisfied that this is consistent with international law. When Anatoly says that the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 does not override international law he is absolutely right. Even the Act itself says as much.

        This is not a decision that William Hague can make by himself. The case precedent that a correspondent writing on Carl Gardner’s blog has found makes clear that though it is for the Secretary of State and not the Court to decide whether or not the decision is consistent with international law the Secretary of State must act in good faith and in accordance with the legal advice given him by the Foreign Office’s legal advisers or his decision can be set aside by the High Court through the process known as Judicial Review.

        In other words if the British government decides to revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy’s land then it will need to produce legal advice that says that this action is consistent with international law. Anything is possible but I suspect that the British government would have to look long and hard before it could find a lawyer prepared to give that sort of advice. According to Craig Murray (and he tends to be exceptionally well informed about these matters from his sources in the Foreign Office) the government’s legal advisers have clearly advised that such a step would be contrary to international law. Hague and the Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke acted contrary to this advice of (but at the insistence of the US government) when they sent their letter to the Ecuadorian government.

        I would add a word of caution, which is that I don’t know whether this would in the end help Assange. If Hague purports to revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian Embassy’s land and sends the British police into the embassy to arrest Assange then I am afraid Assange will be on a plane to Sweden long before any Court case gets started. The Court case would anyway be one brought by the Ecuadorian government which would be limited to challenging the legality of the British government’s revocation of the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian Embassy’s land. It is unlikely that the Court would be prepared to look into the quite different question of the legality of Assange’s arrest inside the Embassy as part of such a case. The British Court might anyway feel that since Assange was being arrested in accordance with an Order of the British Court his arrest was anyway legal under British law. The Ecuadorian government would of course be able to challenge the legality of Assange’s arrest in the International Court of Justice but any judgment in that Court would be years away and would have no practical effect on Assange’s case.

        Of course the international reaction to such reckless and criminal behaviour would (one presumes) be severe and it is just possible that Hague might face personal legal claims in Britain for example for misfeasance of his public office. Whether this would be enough to deter him I rather doubt.

        • Dear Alexander

          I was told that part of applying for asylum is that you have to be escaping your government (that for Assange would be Australian government) and therefore Assange doesn’t have the right to claim it. Can you comment on this? (sorry to bother you).

  8. China and Russia do not exactly favor freedom of information. Had he picked these two, a lot of his supporters would backed off. Actually he picked well for his own purpose.

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