Ecuador grants political asylum to Julian Assange, controversial former head of WikiLeaks. The Australian-born activist-anarchist-publisher-journalist gained his greatest notoriety in 2010 when the website released 251,287 diplomatic cables from US consulates and embassies–putting at risk a number of US intelligence sources around the world and sharply dividing public opinion as to the righteousness of his actions. Prior to fleeing to the Ecuadorian embassy this week, Assange was living freely in London, but had lost appeals on extradition hearings to Sweden (where he is wanted to stand trial on two charges of rape).
In granting the asylum request, Ecuador’s foreign minister explained that his government fears for Assange’s safety, suspecting that the extradition to Sweden is just the first stop on the way to the US custody (Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, like his Venezuelan counterpart and close ally Hugo Chavez, is well-known for excoriating American “imperialism”). No doubt Assange, self-styled truth-teller and transparency advocate, will find some aspects of his new surroundings uncongenial: the Ecuadorian president publicly loathes what he perceives as the power (“dictatorship”, as he puts it) of the country’s media–and Ecuador’s criminal prosecution of opposition journalists lands it a lowly 104th on the Reporters Without Borders’ ranking of countries by freedom of expression.