Assange and Correa: Strange Allies?

Internet activist Julian Assange is seeking asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. There is plenty of irony here. Assange, who leads an international campaign for transparency with his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, seeks asylum in a country whose government regularly persecutes whistleblowers and the media.

Assange is not ignorant of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s opinion of the media. Correa told him in an interview this past fall that the private media

defend shamelessly obvious interests, and so for the good of our democracy and true freedom of speech, it is necessary to regulate and control them. A way to do so is by creating a state-owned media.

It is worth reading the transcript of the interview. It makes clear that Assange suffers from a eurocentric perspective. While he clearly condemns censorship by rich-country governments (particularly the United States), he turns a blind eye to much more pervasive and aggressive censorship in other countries, including Ecuador under Correa’s government (see page 15 of the transcript).

It might be worthwhile to have Assange come to Ecuador and try to do here what he does best. He will find that Correa’s administration does not tolerate whistleblowers: consider Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, journalists who exposed the president’s brother’s peculiar contracts with the government and who were thereafter sued by the president for libel. Neither does Correa take kindly to those who challenge the official version of events: consider the $80 million lawsuit he filed against local newspaper El Universo and its opinion page editor, Emilio Palacio (who remains in exile), or police officer César Carrión who spent six months in jail after contradicting the government’s version of the police strike on the 30th of September of 2010 on CNN en Español.

Assange might learn to appreciate the existing rule of law in countries like England and the United States once he tries to do his job here. In the unlikely event that he were to be treated as an ordinary citizen, he might discover that his rights to freedom of expression and of information are more vulnerable here than he felt they were in England. Furthermore, if he should ever get in trouble whistleblowing on the Ecuadorian government, he should not expect a fair trial in front of a somewhat independent judiciary, things he is more likely to receive in countries like England or Sweden. Assange need only watch this video where one of the judges in charge of El Universo’s case reveals he received a written sentence from the president’s lawyer in a pen drive.

Assange and Correa certainly appear to be strange allies. But maybe they have forged an alliance because, despite being on opposite sides of the censorship and transparency issues, they need each other. Assange needs to avoid courts in Europe and Correa would like to redeem himself with a certain segment of public opinion at home and abroad. To top it all, they both have an anti-Yankee agenda and, apparently, don’t have a problem acting against their purported principles.