It is bitterly ironic that Julian Assange, the self-styled crusader for media freedom through his WikiLeaks project, has escaped to Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid imminent deportation to Sweden, where he faced questioning on possible charges of sexual assault. After Hugo Chávez, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa has done more to clamp down on media freedom than any other Latin American leader.
But that doesn’t appear to bother Assange, who interviewed Correa on RT, Russia’s propaganda channel, last month. During their exchange, Correa attacked the “media vultures” of his country and justified his crackdown on them because he said they were meddling in politics and destabilizing his government.
Ecuador’s government now appears likely to provide a safe haven for Assange. Its statement says it will “take into account respect for the rules and principles of international law and the traditional policy of Ecuador to safeguarding human rights.” Somehow I doubt the women in Sweden who say Assange raped them will view Ecuador’s action as safeguarding their human rights.
Ecuador’s government says Assange wrote to them saying he was being “persecuted” by Western powers. But that’s exactly what private media outlets in Ecuador say President Correa is doing to them. This year he promulgated a new media code that bars anyone from printing or televising reports that favor one candidate over another — which could include an interview of a single candidate. Another law bars anyone who owns more than 6 percent of a media outlet from owning other businesses, a crippling financial restriction.
In February of this year, President Correa only reluctantly pardoned four journalists for the newspaper El Universo who had been sentenced to three years in jail and fined $42 million after being sued for libel by the president. Correa was compelled to act after an independent investigation revealed that the magistrate who heard the Correa lawsuit didn’t write the 156-page ruling in the case. A judge who had previously been given the case now claims the president’s attorney first unsuccessfully tried to bribe her to issue a favorable ruling, then had her replaced and ultimately wrote the final judgment himself. After telling her story the judge who rejected the bribe has fled Ecuador in fear of her life.
No wonder that José Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas, told the New York Times that Correa’s actions are “driven and motivated by an effort to concentrate power and to intimidate and harass critics by representing them as promoters of lies.”
This is the man Julian Assange, who claims to be a speaker of truth to power in favor of full governmental transparency, is seeking help from. We now have the full measure of Assange’s lack of character.