Julian Assange

John Paul Rathbone

Edward Snowden is fast becoming a hot potato nobody wants to handle. Russia does not want him – so he can’t leave the legally-grey area of the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on foot. He could fly away – that is Putin’s preferred solution and, indeed, it seems that he now has travel papers, after Ecuador granted him a “safe pass” for temporary travel, according to images of travel documents posted by Spanish language Univision late on Wednesday.

But Snowden’s flight path to the apparent safety of possible political asylum in another country, such as Venezuela (which has offered the possibility) or Ecuador (which has said it would consider it), is blocked by a problem. All commercial flights between Moscow and Quito or Caracas touch down in third countries with which the US has extradition agreements. And that includes Cuba. Read more

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John Paul Rathbone

Rafael Correa (Getty)

Julian Assange’s decision to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy is not as strange as it seems. In May, Mr Assange interviewed Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, for Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed television channel. Both men laughed and smiled as they shared their anti-US views — in his six years as president, Mr Correa has booted out a US ambassador and a US army base — and also their partial ideas about media freedom. Mr Assange once wanted to censor his own biography. Mr Correa has developed a government media empire, while clamping down on critical independents. Read more

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John Paul Rathbone

Julian Assange speaking in December 2011 (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, has said he wants to make Latin America a priority of British diplomacy. The UK’s approach to Julian Assange suggests otherwise.

Mr Assange, today granted political asylum by Ecuador, remains holed up in its embassy in London. But the foreign office has said that, under UK law, British police can storm the Ecuadorean embassy and remove him. Such action would presumably form part of its “binding obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden,” as a foreign office spokesperson put it.

Bad move. For one, the law is unnecessary. As Ecuador acknowledges, rather than raid the embassy British police could simply arrest Assange as soon as he stepped out onto London’s street, en route to political asylum in Quito. (He faces charges of skipping bail.) The law is also politically flat-footed. It casts the UK as a heavy-handed western country that considers itself above international norms (especially given the UN Security Council’s condemnation of the sacking of the British embassy in Iran). It thereby tacitly confirms the worst kinds of conspiracy theories swirling around Assange. And it allows Ecuador to play the plucky David standing up to the bullying colonial Goliath of Britain. The pose resonates throughout the region, and has similarly been struck by Argentina in its arguments with the UK over the Falklands. Expect President Cristina Fernandez to start singing that refrain again soon. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

The polite grace period that Rafael Correa extended to Britain during the Olympics is sadly over. This week, a decision is due from Ecuador’s president on whether he will grant asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. A “yes” is expected. But what then? JP Rathbone considers the possibilities. Read more