London — On Friday, I visited Ecuador’s embassy here in the capital of the former British empire and saw a building surrounded by a phalanx of cops, with several of them at the front door. The embassy is in an upscale neighborhood near Harrods department store. The intimidating police presence was ordered by a Conservative government that waxes eloquent about the need to respect (British) embassies overseas.
The intensified police deployment is only part of Britain’s response to Ecuador’s decision — after a long review — to grant political asylum on human rights grounds to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who took refuge in the embassy two months ago. The British government has made it clear that it will not allow Ecuador to provide safe passage and asylum to an individual who — for the “crime” of publishing — has heard powerful U.S. voices in politics and media call for his murder.
At the door of the rather small embassy, I was met by cops who interrogated me about who I was and why I sought entry. I had to wonder if the embassy was under siege by Britain on behalf of Washington, which reportedly stands ready to prosecute the WikiLeaks founder. Again, that’s for the “crime” of publishing — not sexual assault.
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Besides all the mainstream journalists, cameras and satellite trucks across the street from Ecuador’s embassy, I was heartened to see British citizens protesting their government’s actions — and also standing up for Bradley Manning, the young U.S. Army private who faces life in prison as the accused WikiLeaks leaker of documents showing military and diplomatic crimes by the U.S. government. Among the placards I saw: “Exposing War Crimes Is Not a Crime — Free Assange, Free Manning” and “Protect Freedom to Publish.” and “If Wars Can Be Started by Lies, They Can Be Stopped By Truth.”
It’s important to know that Britain’s Foreign Office recently threatened Ecuador in a letter — claiming a legal basis to go ahead and arrest Assange from the embassy after revoking the building’s diplomatic status. On Thursday, a prominent Conservative member of Parliament tweeted that Britain should break off diplomatic relations with Ecuador and then invade the “former embassy” to seize the WikiLeaks founder.
A U.S. group I co-founded, RootsAction.org, is circulating a short online petition thanking Ecuador and protesting Britain’s threats against the embassy and refusal to uphold the right of asylum.
As the father of two daughters (who are with me in London), I take sexual assault allegations seriously (Assange has never been charged). But standing outside this embassy surrounded by British police, it looked to me like a classic case of powerful Western states uniting to intimidate a less powerful country on behalf of their prerogatives toward domination and war. It had nothing to do with “the rule of law.” And it had nothing to do with women’s rights.