Ecuador has complex relations with Assange

Ecuador has complex relations with Assange
Adrian Cotterill via CNN
WikiLeaks' Julian Assange arrested

Hours after Julian Assange was ousted from his diplomatic refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the country released a laundry list of alleged transgressions which brought the WikiLeaks founder’s seven-year residency to an end.

Foreign Minister Jose Valencia and Interior Minister María Paula Romo accused Assange of riding scooters around the cramped embassy hallways, insulting staff and smearing feces on the walls.

But while Ecuador had undoubtedly tired of its London house guest, the motivations for stripping Assange of his asylum and allowing in officers of the Metropolitan Police are likely to have been more complex.

WikiLeaks had already been needling the Ecuadorian authorities in other ways. For months, Assange had been pursuing a legal action against the Ecuadorian government, accusing it of violating his rights by introducing strict new house rules for living at the embassy. An Ecuadorian judge rejected the assertions last October.

Quito was also irritated by Assange’s support for the Catalonian independence movement: Its Foreign Ministry told Assange to refrain from making statements that could impair Ecuador’s relations with other countries, including Spain.

More recently, WikiLeaks got personal. On March 25, WikiLeaks posted a tweet bringing attention to a corruption probe that Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno is facing. It linked to an anonymously registered website hosting a vast trove of leaked emails, text messages and other documents pertaining to Moreno’s private life.

The Ecuadorian government blamed WikiLeaks for the leaked documents, dubbed the INA Papers, an allegation that WikiLeaks denies.

For WikiLeaks and its supporters, the Ecuadorian government tried to use the INA Papers leak as yet another pretext to terminate Assange’s asylum.

Moreno has denied any wrongdoing. The attorney general’s office has launched an investigation into the allegations. WikiLeaks denied any involvement in the release of the INA Papers, but that hasn’t stopped Moreno from pointing the finger at Assange and WikiLeaks.

Assange does not have the right to “hack accounts or personal phones,” Moreno told the Ecuadorian Radio Broadcasters’ Association last Tuesday

Over the weekend, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Relations ramped up the rhetoric against Assange when it put out a fiery statement rejecting “the fake news that has circulated in the last few days on social media, many of them spread by an organization linked to Mr. Julian Assange.”

Relations between Assange and Ecuador deteriorated further on Wednesday when WikiLeaks called a press conference and claimed the group had discovered a spying operation against Assange from within the embassy.

Speaking to reporters in London, Kristinn Hrafnsson, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said Ecuador had made surreptitious video and audio recordings of Assange and his interactions at the embassy, including a medical examination and meetings with legal representatives.

‘Biggest betrayal’

Assange is Australian but had been granted Ecuadorian naturalization in 2017. Less than 24 hours after WikiLeaks’ press conference, Assange’s Ecuadorian citizenship had been revoked, his asylum rescinded, and embassy officials had invited the Metropolitan Police over to forcibly remove him.

Moves against WikiLeaks were not just taking place in London. In Ecuador, the Interior Ministry announced that it had arrested a “close collaborator” of Assange at Quito’s airport as he was preparing to fly to Japan on Thursday.

Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo told CNN that the individual under arrest is Ola Bini, a Swedish software developer who she said had visited the Ecuadorian Embassy in London several times.

Romo said at a press conference Thursday that Bini, Assange and WikiLeaks have been trying to destabilize the government of Moreno. She accused Bini of working with with Ricardo Patiño, who was foreign minister during the government of former President Rafael Correa, who granted asylum to Assange.

“For several years now, one of the key members of the WikiLeaks organization and a person close to Assange has lived in Ecuador,” Romo said at the press conference.

Correa told CNN Thursday that the decision by his successor to revoke Assange’s asylum status was “the biggest betrayal perhaps in Latin American history.”

Hyperbole, perhaps. But whatever the truth, the story of Assange’s turbulent 2,488 days in the Ecuadorian Embassy isn’t over yet.

CNN’s Claudia Rebaza contributed to this story.