FORMER ECUADORIAN PRESIDENT Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being.
Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.”
The danger for Assange thus remains high if were to leave the embassy, particularly in light of a highly threatening speech given last year by Mike Pompeo, then U.S. President Donald Trump’s CIA director and now his secretary of state, in which he labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” denied that its publication of documents is protected by the First Amendment, and vowed that “to give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.”
In January, doctors who examined Assange inside the embassy warned that continued confinement posed grave threats to both his physical and mental health. Assange’s mother said earlier this week that his health was “rapidly deteriorating” and had become “extremely dangerous.”
CORREA CITED those facts, as well as Ecuador’s legal obligations under international law to asylees, to denounce Ecuador’s denial of visitors to Assange as “basically torture.” Denial of visitors is, Correa said, “a clear violation of his rights. Once we give asylum to someone, we are responsible for his safety, for ensuring humane living conditions.” But “without communications to the outside world and visits from anyone, the government is basically attacking Julian’s mental health.”
The ex-president said he believed it could be appropriate to limit Assange’s communications if he were acting “irresponsibly” by interfering in another country’s politics. During the 2016 U.S. election, Correa said, his own government told Assange that it thought his attacks on Hillary Clinton were becoming excessive and briefly suspended his internet connection to underline its concerns.
“But that was just temporary,” said Correa. “We never intended to take away his internet for an extended period of time. That is going way too far.” Correa’s Foreign Affairs Minister Guillaume Long similarly said in an interview with The Guardian earlier this morning that he, too, believed that the denial of visitors to Assange and the blocking of his internet access for this long — believed to be due to Assange’s frequent tweeting over the Catalan independence movement in Spain — was unjust.
As for reports that Ecuador is negotiating with the U.K. government to turn over Assange, Correa said that he had no knowledge of those discussions, but said it would be “unthinkable” for Ecuador to do so without first obtaining enforceable protections for Assange’s rights, including not having the U.K. government use the bail violations as a pretext to hand over Assange to the U.S.
Emphasizing that the U.S. government has made clear that it wants to prosecute Assange for publishing newsworthy material under statutes that allow for the death penalty, Correa said any such deal that did not include protections against extradition to the U.S. would be “a terrible betrayal, a violation of the rules of asylum, and a breach of Ecuador’s responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of Julian Assange.”
Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.
But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.