Julian Assange requests asylum at Ecuador embassy

James Ball writes: With its stand-off at the tiny Ecuadorian embassy in London, the Assange melodrama has entered its third act. But despite the drama, we don’t yet know for sure what kind of story it is.

The first possibility is political thriller: Assange is right, his critics wrong. The US is indeed trying to extradite Assange via Sweden, using a method which avoids due process and involves political interference.

There’s been no evidence to support this theory, despite it being the basis of Assange’s bid for asylum, but it would be a problematic one for the US: a backdoor extradition would bring a lot of disillusioned WikiLeaks supporters back into the fold, likely prompt a (grudging) defence of Assange from the New York Times and others, and give Obama serious first amendment and human rights challenges in an election year.

Tactically, it would be the worst possible way for the US to seek extradition.

The second option is greek tragedy: a world in which Assange has spent so long conflating allegations centred around his private life on a few days in Sweden with WikiLeaks’ wider battles he’s come to believe his own spin.

Instead of seeing a Swedish prosecution, Assange’s belief it comes wider has led him to breach his bail, lose his supporters their bail money, and cause an diplomatic ruckus.

The third is soap opera: time and again during his Swedish sex case, Assange has escalated the situation – refusing to take an STD test, leading to the prosecution. Leaving the country and refusing. to attend a face-to-face interview (offering only Skype or through the embassy), leading to extradition.

Fighting the extradition through every court to the highest in the UK. And now, prompting a stand-off outside an embassy – always moving in the direction of increasing drama and public attention.

To those supporters still fanatically loyal to Assange, which of the three is happening matters a great deal.

To others, it’s already a tragedy. WikiLeaks’ alleged source Bradley Manning faces trial – and a possible death sentence – in the US. Sixteen supporters who allegedly took part in attacks on PayPal, Mastercard and Visa, the online equivalent of sit-in protests, for their boycott of WikiLeaks each face up to fifteen years in prison, and await their day in court.

A group of alleged UK hackers belonging to the Lulzsec group will each face their trials next week. And the WikiLeaks submission system remains down, as it has for nearly two years.

But we’re not looking at any of that. We’re looking at the Ecuadorian embassy – the aftermath of a few days in Sweden.

Joshua Rozenberg adds: It is for the Ecuadorians to decide whether they want to annoy the UK, the EU and, no doubt, the US by offering Assange asylum.

But to do so might be something of an empty gesture. The police will not enter a foreign embassy to make an arrest. But short of giving Assange Ecuadorian diplomatic status or hiding him in a rather large diplomatic bag, there seems no way in which he can get to Heathrow, let alone Ecuador, without being arrested for breach of his bail conditions.

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