Since his appearance on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy on Sunday, during which Julian Assange thanked Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa for granting him asylum, the media has offered a broad array of discussion around the possible fate of the Wikileaker.
In his address, Assange called on US President Barack Obama to “do the right thing” and for his government to “renounce its witch-hunt against Wikileaks”, which “stands under threat”, “so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies.” Assange urged the United States to “pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful” and said “The U.S. administration’s war on whistleblowers must end.”
The Independent’s Andy McSmith said that Assange “spoke as if he had had to flee into the Ecuadorean embassy with US government agents hot on his heels. If that were true, if he really were engaged in a struggle to avoid imprisonment in the US over his work for WikiLeaks, rather than to avoid answering a grubby accusation of sexual misconduct, then the crowd outside the embassy would have numbered rather more than a few hundred; instead there would have been thousands out there, bringing traffic in Knightsbridge to a complete halt.
“The Swedish judicial system will, in the end, have to decide whether or not Assange is guilty of a criminal offence. However, what cannot be disputed is that two women who trusted and admired him enough to go to bed with him were put through experiences horrible enough to cause them to complain to the authorities.
“Does Assange care? If he does, he certainly didn’t seem to consider it worth a mention.”
The Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips argued: “Assange is not merely a narcissist and exhibitionist. He has also inflicted real damage upon Western interests — and is thought to have caused a number of very brave individuals to have their security compromised and maybe even to lose their lives.
“Some of the classified cables he published, for example, identified the names, villages, relatives’ identities and precise locations of Afghans who had co-operated with Nato troops. They also revealed the whereabouts of American tactical nuclear weapons, and risked jeopardising alliances between nations by publishing apparently compromising material out of context[…]
“The suggestion that he is a champion of justice and human rights is therefore preposterous. He is rather an arch-manipulator of the media, an anti-Western agitator and an impresario of cant.
“Meanwhile, for all the Ecuadorians’ anti-imperialist chest-beating, the uncomfortable fact remains that they are sheltering a man wanted to face allegations of serious sexual offences. Britain must now just be patient and sit this one out.”
Gary Slapper of the Times thought Assange “got off to a bad start. It was an explicit precondition of his being granted asylum by Ecuador that he did not use his status within the embassy to make political speeches. So technically his outrageous address denied him the right to be on the balcony from which he spoke.
“The appropriate palladium of justice is a law court. The case of Mr Assange cannot be adequately judged on the pages of Facebook, by a million tweets and counter-tweets or by political balcony declarations and governmental counter-declarations.”
Seamus Milne of the Guardian argued that: “Considering he made his name with the biggest leak of secret government documents in history, you might imagine there would be at least some residual concern for Julian Assange among those trading in the freedom of information business. But the virulence of British media hostility towards the WikiLeaks founder is now unrelenting.
“The US interest in deterring others from following the WikiLeaks path is obvious. And it would be bizarre to expect a state which over the past decade has kidnapped, tortured and illegally incarcerated its enemies, real or imagined, on a global scale – and continues to do so under President Barack Obama – to walk away from what Hillary Clinton described as an “attack on the international community”. In the meantime, the US authorities are presumably banking on seeing Assange further discredited in Sweden.
“None of that should detract from the seriousness of the rape allegations made against Assange, for which he should clearly answer and, if charges are brought, stand trial. The question is how to achieve justice for the women involved while protecting Assange (and other whistleblowers) from punitive extradition to a legal system that could potentially land him in a US prison cell for decades.”
In the international media, The Sydney Morning Herald notes that “The case of Julian Assange gets ever more curious – with the Andean nation of Ecuador now thoroughly drawn into the web of conspiracy fears and paranoia surrounding the WikiLeaks founder.
“We now have a democratic government in the American hemisphere granting asylum to someone on the basis of well-grounded fear of political persecution in the United States. The case is a dark hole of legal and human rights suspicions that needs the light of transparent judicial process.”
Anita Isaacs of The New York Times makes the point that “This is a low-risk venture for Mr. Correa at home, with the possibility of significant political returns. Elected president twice, initially in 2006 and again following the passage of constitutional reforms in 2009, he is already the longest-serving president since Ecuador’s return to democracy in 1997. Given that he has a 57 percent approval rating and a deeply fragmented political opposition, Mr. Correa’s chances for re-election in February 2013 are strong.
“Mr. Correa’s trademark populist and confrontational style, displayed in his refusal to stand down in the face of a mutiny, serves to shore up his standing in a country with a long tradition of authoritarian politics. Granting Mr. Assange asylum provides a politically timely reminder of Mr. Correa’s leadership style at home — and his potential for regional leadership beyond Ecuador’s borders.”
The Australian remarked that “Assange likened himself to Thomas Drake, William Binney and John Kiriakou – all former US government employees, all whistleblowers of wrongdoing or torture and all subject to legal proceedings as a result. But that’s not what he is. His WikiLeaks activities have led to no criminal charges, yet, at all. He’s simply a suspected sex pest.
“Assange is wrong, wrong, wrong, and the moment Britain cheats to silence that wrongness is the moment he starts being right. Let the mockery resume.”
Noam Chomsky has supported Assange’s case, arguing that “Everyone in their right mind knows that this is a stepping stone to the US.”
“By right [Assange] ought to get a medal of honour. He’s performing his responsibilities as a citizen of a democratic society and people ought to know what their representatives are doing ”