August 21, 2012
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, spoke publicly last Sunday from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London where he has taken refuge from both the United Kingdom and the Swedish court authorities. He accused the U.S. of a Witch Hunt. He was granted asylum by the Ecuadorean government. Mr. Assange is wanted for questioning on accusations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion by two women in Stockholm. He denies the accusations but yet refuses to face his accusers in court. He claims that if he turned himself in, Sweden would then extradite him to the U.S. where he would face espionage charges for revealing state and military secrets to the world with the publication of the Wikileaks.
I think that Benjamin Radford is correct when he writes in his analysis Ethical Issues Plague Wikileaks Standoff published by Discovery News, that “Assange’s claims (whether true or not) that the U.S. government is out to get him does not offer him a blanket immunity from all crimes he may have committed in the past, or may commit in the future.”
I find it quite amusing, as cleverly explained by fellow blogger and friend Ben Cohen in his blog post entitled “Julian Assange and Ecuador’s Gesture Politics, that of all the countries to choose from to seek asylum, Mr. Assange would choose Ecuador, which has less than a pristine record on freedom of the press. Mr. Assange may have to spend many months and years at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.
The notion and practice of asylum is ancient. It was recognized by the Egyptians, the Jews and the Greeks. In Medieval Europe, the Church, or rather certain churches, were designated as havens. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
According to the Biblical account, God instructed Moses to designate six cities of refuge, in the Land of Israel, where a person, who accidentally killed another, could flee to and be protected from the vengeance of the family of the deceased.
There are many interesting cases of famous asylum seekers. Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall and the Dalai Lama at one point in their lives were refugees. In 1956, Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, anticipating imminent arrest because of his opposition to Stalin and Communism, took refuge at the American Embassy in Budapest and lived there for 15 years until he was allowed to leave Hungary. French author Christine Arnothy tells his story in her book called the Captive Cardinal.
The fundamental values in asylum are empathy and compassion. We should respect those values but also be protective of them to make sure they are not abused.
I do not believe that it is Mr. Assange who is entitled to empathy and compassion in this alleged sexual molestation case but rather his victims. They deserve justice.
As Albert Einstein once said:
“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”