Thursday, January 11, 2018

That was their plan?

The Ecuadoran government is tired of sheltering Julian Assange in their London embassy and Assange-watchers have wondered if they are looking for an end game. Yesterday Assange tweeted a picture of himself in an Ecuadoran soccer jersey, and reports from Ecuador claimed Ecuador issued Assange a national ID card and passport. When I saw those reports yesterday, I did not get how that was supposed to end to the standoff in London. Assange is subject to arrest if he steps out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London, but not because of his citizenship. Foreign citizens can be arrested to. I did not see how a new citizenship would fix that problem.

But today we learn that citizenship was just step one of the plan. Step two was appointing Assange to a diplomatic position for the government of Ecuador. With a diplomatic posting he would have diplomatic immunity, which would let him finally leave the compound without fear of arrest. A plausible plan! Except it didn't work. The British foreign office denied Ecuador's request to grant diplomatic status to Assange. I guess it was kinda obvious that they were just asking for that status to foil the arrest warrant, and not because Ecuador had any intention of giving Assange a bona fide diplomatic job.

Maybe it your clever plan to avoid arrest by a foreign power isn't so clever if a key step to the plan requires assent by that same foreign power.

So is Assange still also an Australian citizen? Ecuadoran law does not recognize dual citizenship, (with the exception of Spanish-Ecuadoran dual nationality). Under Australian law, merely getting citizenship elsewhere would not cause him to lose his Australian citizenship, but he could have lost it if Ecuador required Assange to renounce his Australian citizenship as a step to apply for his Ecuadoran citizenship. If so, becoming Ecuadoran instead of leading to freedom, would just end up further limiting his movement. An Australian passport-holder can travel visa-free to 156 countries (it tied for 6th "most powerful" passport in the world). Ecuador can only travel visa-free to 81 countries, and is 53rd on the power ranking.