Millennium Post

Holed up in a foreign embassy

Holed up in a foreign embassy
To be holed up in a foreign embassy in London for over five years ostensibly to avoid extradition proceedings must be an awful experience. But the curious case of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, has been getting more curious by the day and seems to have hit all but a dead end. In the beginning, it was Sweden that wanted him on "unforgiveable" sex charges. Extradition seemed imminent at one point of time but the Ecuador government threw its weight behind him, tilted scales in favour of the strange, controversial figure who has often been likened to a "genius" and was even recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize. Peace has, since, eluded him even if Sweden dropped its charges. True, both Ecuador and U.K. have had lengthy negotiations to try and have the celebrated refugee set free. Talks between the UK and Ecuador over the future of Julian Assange at its London embassy have broken down, the South American country's foreign minister has said. Maria Fernanda Espinosa suggested British officials had been unwilling to negotiate over the WikiLeaks founder's potential release. Earlier this month, a judge upheld an arrest warrant issued when Assange skipped bail as he fought extradition to Sweden in 2012. The 46-year-old has been at the Embassy ever since because he fears extradition to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves. Ecuador said it would continue to protect Assange's rights, however, there was a risk to his physical and psychological well-being after spending nearly six years in the building as a "refugee". The country has assessed more than 30 similar cases in a bid to break the deadlock, including that of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in prison in Iran accused of spying. This included options for granting diplomatic immunity, although Ecuador said it would continue to respect the UK's laws. Interestingly, in November, Espinosa said Assange had been granted Ecuadorian citizenship. The foreign minister said Ecuador was trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – including special legal immunity and safe passage. Last week, former British cabinet minister Sir Patrick McLoughlin asked the Home Office when action would be taken over Assange's case during Commons questions. He said the first three years of Assange's five-year stay in the embassy had cost the Metropolitan Police an additional £11m. As matters stand, the costs would mount as there is little or no likelihood of Assange being handed over to Scotland Yard. In event of his being extradited to the U.S., even he is uncertain but apprehensive of what awaits him. His present living conditions are akin to being in a space capsule, he has said. But freedom, as they say, always comes at a price. Can Assange afford it?
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