This morning, Julian Assange is surrounded by London police who want to arrest him and fawning fans who wants to defend him, but there's no easy way out for the WikiLeaks founder. His surprise request for political asylum at the Ecuador embassy in London Thursday is fraught with diplomatic complications, according to legal experts, but so long as he stays in the embassy, British authorities will not arrest him. So what happens next? Here's the latest on the mystery man's sticky situation.
Can Ecuador even help him? If Ecuador does grant Assange political asylum, whisking him out of Britain won't be as easy as it may sound. This morning, British police are standing guard outside the Ecuador embassy to arrest Assange for violating the terms of his bail, which includes a nighttime curfew, reports the Associated Press. And although police concede they can't lay their hands on him so long as he stays inside the embassy, that doesn't mean he can easily get to Ecuador. As The Guardian's legal blogger Joshua Rozenberg explains, he still needs to get to the airport somehow. "The police will not enter a foreign embassy to make an arrest," he writes. "But short of giving Assange Ecuadorian diplomatic status or hiding him in a rather large diplomatic bag, there seems no way in which he can get to Heathrow, let alone Ecuador, without being arrested for breach of his bail conditions."
Diplomatic problems. But getting to the airport may be the least of his worries. Would Ecuador even help him to begin with? It's true he has a stellar relationship with Ecuador's left-wing President Rafael Correa, as Assange-supporter Glenn Greenwald points out. "In 2010, a top official from that country offered Assange residency," he writes. " Earlier this month, Assange interviewed that nation’s left-wing President, Rafael Correa, for his television program on RT. Among other things, Correa praisedthe transparency brought about by WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables as being beneficial for Ecuador." However, just because the president likes Assange doesn't mean he'll be willing to take all the diplomatic risks involved. If he were to grant him asylum, it would risk infuriating the UK, the EU and the US. As Rozenberg notes, "Assange's decision to seek political asylum in Ecuador shows how desperate he must feel."
Moral support. But regardless of how desperate his situation may be, he has received a flurry of moral support following yesterday's request. Outside his embassy, fans have picketed and held signs reading "Free Assange." On his Facebook page, Michael Moore issued a strong showing of support:
IMHO, there is no doubt that if the UK sends him to Sweden, Sweden will send him to the USA. Sweden says they "just want to talk to him" about the accusations leveled at him (he has still not been charged with any crime). If Swedish police want to question him, there is an SAS flight that leaves Stockholm at 7:55 tomorrow morning (flight #525) to London. I'm sure the British authorities would have no problem with the Swedish police questioning Mr. Assange. Then Sweden can decide if it wants to charge him with a crime. Any and all allegations of sexual abuse by anyone and to anyone MUST be treated very seriously, and Mr. Assange should cooperate with the inquiry. But it appears that Sweden has little interest in these charges - what they really want is the ability to extradite Assange to America. And that, simply, must not happen.
Other supporters of Assange were completely caught off guard by the move, apparently. Jemima Khan, for instance, who helped post bail for Assange stands to lose her money because of his violation. As The Telegraph reports, asked if she was "on the hoof" for his transgression, she said:
Suffice it to say, it's anyone's guess what will happen next.