Ecuador should be applauded for protecting Julian Assange from the forces of repression when no one else will, says barrister Greg Barns.
Ecuador’s decision to grant Julian Assange asylum, coming from a country which resents the toxic influence of the United States in Latin America, is no surprise.
But what is utterly bewildering and scandalous is the preparedness of the UK government to arrest Assange and ensure that he is handed over to the spineless Swedes by using a law designed to stop embassies being used to promote terrorist activity.
The UK government says the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act, passed in 1987, enables its government to declare that the Ecuadorian Embassy is simply UK territory and that its police can enter and arrest Assange, who it says has breached bail. And the foreign secretary William Hague said overnight that the UK government “will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so”.
Let’s look at the 1987 Act first. This law was enacted in an era when the UK had difficulties with countries like Libya using embassies for terrorist activity or acts of violence. The Second Reading Speech on the Bill – which provides the explanation of what the purpose of the law is – was delivered by Baroness Young, the responsible minister on May 14, 1987.
A provision in the bill to allow the government to declare an embassy British territory on the grounds of national security was drafted because, Baroness Young said, “at present we would be unable to remove diplomatic status from premises which were being misused”.
“I have in mind here evidence over a long period of time that a mission was being used, for instance, in support of terrorist activity,” she added.
How could it be said that Julian Assange, facing breach of bail charges and sexual assault charges in the UK, is a matter of national security?
To send in British police to arrest Assange under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act shows simply that the UK is prepared to abuse power in the way one might expect from an authoritarian regime.
- Julian Assange row: ministers from across Americas to hold meeting (guardian.co.uk)
- US rejects diplomatic asylum to Assange – Hindustan Times (hindustantimes.com)
- Julian Assange asylum offer leads UK and Ecuador into diplomatic row (guardian.co.uk)
- Australia ‘preparing’ for Assange extradition to US (timesofindia.indiatimes.com)
- Julian Assange ‘doing all right’ amid Ecuador asylum row (guardian.co.uk)