Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, is weighing whether to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s request for political asylum. The Australian-born Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden to face sexual-assault allegations, is holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Whatever the fiery populist president decides, this is a bizarre story because Correa has shown little tolerance for freedom of expression in Ecuador. He’s engaged in a war of words with the media, conjuring up archaic libel laws to go after newspaper owners and a columnist he disagreed with. More recently, he’s sought to weaken the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a watchdog group that has pushed to protect indigenous leaders, journalists and civil society organizations in the Western Hemisphere from abuses, and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression in the region.
Assange is known as the founder of the whistle-blowing website that released State Department documents, including confidential cables from U.S. diplomats, on the Internet.
Sure, Correa finds Assange simpatico -- both men recently joked during a broadcast of Assange's television show on Russia Today that they were victims of persecution. But I wonder if Correa would show such respect for Assange’s right to free speech had the data involved originated from Ecuador’s government files. Would Assange instead be facing criminal charges in Ecuador? Or suffering a fate far worse than that of the editor of the Ecuadorean newspaper Hoy, who was sentenced to prison last year after he refused to turn over the names of the journalists who wrote unsigned articles on alleged corruption by a central bank official -- an official who happens to be the president's brother? Hard to imagine.