Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ecuador's Correa Says No Hypocrisy in His Defense of WikiLeaks' Assange

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ecuador's Correa Says No Hypocrisy in His Defense of WikiLeaks' Assange

Article excerpt

For President Rafael Correa, there's no hypocrisy in his defense of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on free speech grounds and the harsh restrictions he imposes on the press in Ecuador.

President Correa says the Latin American press is corrupt and so needs a different set of rules to apply. Dont let yourself by fooled by whats going on, he told foreign journalists in Ecuadors second city, Guayaquil, on Monday. There is this image of the media as being about Woodward and Bernstein and the struggle for freedom of expression, but thats not the case here. The press in Latin America is totally corrupt.

Granting asylum to Mr. Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy group that has released thousands of US diplomatic cables, is part of what he calls a David and Goliath battle against big powers; a battle in which Ecuador will not back down, no matter how long it takes.

Assange took refuge inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London in June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning on allegations of rape, sexual assault, and unlawful coercion.

He and his supporters say the charges are part of a plot to get him extradited to the US where, they say, he could face harsh penalties. The US has not made a formal extradition request for Assange, and it would be harder to secure his extradition from Sweden than it would be from the United Kingdom. Ecuador announced it would formally offer Assange asylum last Thursday.

The UK has refused to allow Assange safe passage out of the country, insisting it will arrest him as required under international and its own extradition treaties. Last week, after the UK warned Ecuador that it might withdraw the embassy's protected status to arrest Assange who had violated the terms of his house arrest agreement when he fled to the embassy both Ecuador and Assange ratcheted up tension in the standoff, implying the UK was planning on storming the embassy.

A ruse?

Many believe that Ecuadors harboring of Assange is merely a ruse to boost Correas popularity in the run-up to elections next February and to deflect charges that he has severely restricted freedom of expression in Ecuador.

According to its own numbers, the Ecuadorian government has shut down 14 media outlets since the beginning of the year. In most of these instances the government claimed the stations had violated licensing laws and owed minimal fines, to which it responded by seizing all equipment and shutting them down without warning. When asked last night if this treatment was fair, President Correa responded, Yes.

We believe in some way that the Ecuadorian government is using the figure of Mr. Assange, his celebrity, to repair the image of President Correa abroad, said Diego Cornejo the director of the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors in an interview with the Spanish news agency Efe. …

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