Five years ago today, Ecuador invoked international law and recognised the political persecution of Julian Assange and granted him the status of political refugee, judging his life to be at grave risk. Ecuador’s decision was backed by the Union of South American Nations countries and ALBA. As the Center for Constitutional Rights noted, by protecting a journalist at risk, Ecuador “strengthens the global commitment to human rights, including government accountability and freedom of the press.”
In February 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Assange’s detention to arbitrary, that he “has been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty,” and that he was “entitled to his freedom of movement and to compensation.” The United Kingdom challenged the determination and continues to illegally detain him.
In the five years since Ecuador’s decision, the threats of prosecution against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for their legitimate journalistic work, the legal and physical threats against Assange, and the crackdown on whistleblowers and the journalism they enable have increased and intensified. In April, CIA Director Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service” and said that, “we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” His assertions have no basis in the US Constitution or in international law.
Political asylum must be respected, for Assange personally and for truthtellers around the world. The Trump Administration’s intensifying of President Obama’s war on ournalism must be countenanced by a culture of support for whistleblowers and freedom of information.
“There is no more vivid expression of the First Amendment of the US Constitution at work than in the work of WikiLeaks,” says Courage Trustee and celebrated journalist and filmmaker John Pilger. “WikiLeaks reveals the secrets of rapacious power and unaccountable authority which the public has a right to know. That right represents pure democracy.”