Julian Assange’s invocation of state power and international law, when he does not want to face a court, is in flagrant contradiction with the anarchism of the indiscriminate disclosure of government documents by the organization he founded, WikiLeaks.
Britain is caught in the middle. Mr. Assange has been avoiding a return to Sweden to face police questioning with respect to allegations of sexual assault. He has already spent two months in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, but on Thursday Ricardo Patino, the Foreign Minister of Ecuador, announced that it was granting him diplomatic asylum.
Mr. Patino spoke not of Sweden, but of the United States. If any American charges against Mr. Assange were the matter at hand, different considerations might apply. WikiLeaks’ illegal publication of U.S. government documents is a political issue, and Mr. Assange could with at least some tinge of plausibility argue that he had acted on the basis of political conscience. There are rumours that an American grand jury is investigating Mr. Assange for possible charges, but he is not now in flight from any U.S. proceeding.
In Sweden, however, it is a question of fact whether or not Mr. Assange assaulted two women; the charge is an ordinary criminal one, without political ramifications – but for the fact that Mr. Assange, an Australian computer programmer and hacker, is an international political celebrity. At this stage, the Swedish court is only trying to ask him questions.
WikiLeaks has published vast numbers of documents. A few of them disclosed real abuses. Most, by far, consisted of routine internal reports and communications, whose publication resulted only in mild embarrassment and inconvenience.
Ecuador has no special tradition of giving refuge to political exiles, but the President, Rafael Correa, enjoys annoying the United States. Ecuador should cease its interference in the Swedish case, and let Britain extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden. As for Mr. Assange, he should step out of doors and defend himself.
Editor's Note: The original newspaper version of this editorial and an earlier online version contained incorrect information about the allegations of sexual assault. This online version has been corrected.