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A Tale of Two Diplomatic Asylums: Julian Assange and Chen Guangcheng

The US has portrayed Guangcheng as a hero at the same time it hunts down Julian Assange for similar acts.

Two dissidents, two appeals for asylum, two very different approaches and outcomes.

Julian Assange in London

On June 19, 2012, Julian Assange sought asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. The founder of WikiLeaks had just lost a court appeal in which he fought extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning related to accusations of rape and sexual assault.

It is widely believed by members of the international community that Assange’s extradition to Sweden is a vindictive ruse to ultimately thrust him into the legal jurisdiction of the United States to face charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of State Department documents. Sweden has consistently declined offers to interview Assange in Britain, reinforcing this perception.

On August 15, Britain threatened to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy and arrest Assange if the Latin American country did not turn him over to the British authorities. Britain also sent a letter to the Ecuadorian Embassy threatening to strip the embassy of its diplomatic status. This is quite extraordinary, considering that Assange has not been formally charged with any crimes in connection with the Swedish inquiry.

On August 16, Ecuador granted Assange asylum after neither the British nor the Swedes would assure that Assange would not be extradited to a third country – namely the US.

British police now have the Ecuadorian Embassy in London surrounded and under siege and they vow to arrest Assange if he leaves, thereby violating Ecuador’s right to grant diplomatic asylum.

Chen Guangcheng in Beijing

On May 19, 2012, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, his wife and two children arrived at Newark, NJ airport after being granted asylum by the US government. They were accompanied from Beijing by two US State Department officials.

Guangcheng is a blind self-taught lawyer from a Chinese village several hundred miles from Beijing. Guangcheng exposed forced sterilization and abortions of thousands of women by the Chinese government.

Guangcheng was prosecuted by the Chinese government and served a four-year prison sentence for damaging property and “organizing a mob to disturb traffic.” After he completed his prison term in 2010, Guangcheng was placed under house arrest; he escaped in April 2012 and sought refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing. This was only the second case of a foreign diplomatic mission granting protective custody to a dissident in China.

Guangcheng left the US Embassy after six days, reportedly following threats against his wife. Several days later, in May 2012, Guangcheng and his family were granted political asylum in the US following negotiations between the White House and the Chinese government.

However, Guangcheng’s nephew was arrested on April 27, shortly after Guangcheng escaped house arrest and he was convicted in November. He was sentenced to 39 months in prison in a case that was seen as retribution against Guangcheng.

As the Washington Post reported on November 30:

Chen Kegui, the nephew of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, was sentenced on Friday to 39 months in prison for injuring government officials who stormed into his home after searching for his uncle who had fled house arrest. The Obama administration swiftly condemned the sentence, calling it the result of a ‘deeply flawed legal process that lacked basic guarantees of due process.’.

The Obama administration eagerly argued that Chen Kegui was convicted in a summary trial at which he was not fully represented by legal counsel. State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland stated to the Post:

Our concern is that this case did not meet the standard of international law.

A Tale of Two Diplomatic Asylums

The United States government has portrayed Guangcheng as a hero for exposing human rights abuses by the Chinese government at the same time it prosecutes Bradley Manning and hunts down Julian Assange for similar acts. Vice President Joe Biden went so far as to call Assange a “high-tech terrorist” before he was even accused of a crime.

The Assange and Guangcheng cases demonstrate that the US government hypocritically promotes what they call human rights, government accountability and democracy abroad, but shies away from promoting anything similar domestically. US Senator Lindsey Graham even sponsored a Congressional resolution honoring Guangcheng while demanding the prosecution of WikiLeaks.

The United States likes to criticize China for engaging in prosecutions that are deeply flawed and lack due process while it drives a stake in the very heart of due process through official US governmental conduct that includes extraordinary renditions, enhanced interrogations and targeted assassinations.

While the US government has criticized the prosecution of Guangcheng’s nephew as an act of retribution, it continues to exact the same type of retribution from myriad US whistleblowers, like Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou.

Many believe Julian Assange’s legal troubles in Sweden are primarily designed to extradite him to the US for rendition, just as the Chinese government manufactured charges against Guangcheng and his nephew.

Julian Assange and Bradley Manning are being persecuted for exposing the malfeasance of US elites who control the levers of international power for their own aggrandizement. How is this political repression any different than that levied against Guangcheng? It’s not, and the US government knows it.

The real crime in the Assange/Manning matter may be the use of classified documents to hide official misconduct from the American people. This is conduct that is incompatible with a democratic government and the rule of law. But never mind all that.

The prosecution of Manning and Assange exposes the contempt for democracy, the rule of law and human rights by the American and international 1% and their political allies. That this is occurring everywhere in the world, from China to the US, reveals the emergence of what can only be labeled an increasing “global fascism” – creating a situation where governments are at odds with their citizens and then hunt them down for punitive purposes.

Reminiscent of George Orwell’s seminal piece, 1984, torture is being used to “rehabilitate” dissidents such as Guangcheng and Manning while the political elites use “newspeak” and “doublethink” to manipulate and control public information in an effort to manage the perceptions of the American people and the international community. Add to this the fact that technology is now being hyperbolically utilized to monitor the US citizenry, and we find ourselves stuck in a perpetual war with an ill-defined but badly needed enemy of the state to rationalize it.

Only the tiny country of Ecuador has been willing to stand up to the American empire. Not even Julian Assange’s home country of Australia will come to his defense.

The American, British and Swedish governments have been unceasing in their threats to violate Ecuador’s diplomatic immunity and the country’s right to grant asylum in their relentless attempt to get their hands on Assange, even though he has not been charged with any criminal offense. Even China refrained from engaging in such contemptible conduct in the Guangcheng case.


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