Julian Assange’s attempt to gain asylum in Ecuador is just the latest turn in one of the biggest media stories of our time. The WikiLeaks co-founder is currently in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, which issued this statement on June 19:
“This afternoon Mr Julian Assange arrived at the Ecuadorean embassy seeking political asylum from the Ecuadorean government. We have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito. While the department assesses Mr Assange’s application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government.”
This story goes back to 2010, which news junkies may come to remember as the year of WikiLeaks, Assange’s online whistle blowing machine.
In April of that year, WikiLeaks released footage of 18 civilians in Iraq shot dead by troops on board a US helicopter, cockpit video the Pentagon had insisted was no longer in existence. A few months later, the site began posting hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Then came the diplomatic cables, which provided an insider’s view of American diplomacy, and uncensored views of US diplomats on the countries they deal with.
It was also the year that Mr Assange began to be pursued by Swedish and, eventually, British authorities.
Assange has been accused of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another during a trip to deliver a lecture in Sweden in August 2010. He was arrested in London in December of that year, after a European arrest warrant was issued. After eight nights in prison, he was granted bail at $315,000. Since then he’s been under house arrest at, at least, two addresses in the UK.
Throughout his legal ordeal, Assange has maintained the sex was consensual and that he was being persecuted for reasons of politics. He also said he feared the Swedish authorities would simply hand him over to the Americans, who might already have a cell at Guantanamo with his name on it.
In February 2011, a British court ruled that Assange be extradited to Sweden. He has been embroiled in battles in the British courts ever since. In November last year, the High Court ruled that Assange’s extradition was not unfair or unlawful, and last week the country’s highest court backed that decision.
With his legal options in the UK exhausted, Mr Assange had one more appeal route open to him. He had until June 28th to file an appeal at the European court of human rights.