Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who has remained holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London for six years, has reportedly decided to take the unusual step of suing his hosts after an unsuccessful attempt to escape to Russia.
Assange’s lawyer, Baltasar Garzon, announced last week that his client had filed a lawsuit against new restrictions the Ecuadorian government has placed on the former hacker. The lawsuit specifically names Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Jose Valencia, and was filed in Quito. Assange is wanted in the U.K. for skipping bail.
As Wikileaks announced in an accompanying statement, the lawsuit is “challenging the legality of the [Ecuadorian] government’s ‘Special Protocol’ reported in the news this week. The protocol makes Assange’s political asylum contingent on censoring his freedom of opinion, speech and association.”
The protocols, published earlier this month, limit what Assange is allowed to discuss online, and limits the number of visitors allowed to see him in the embassy. Assange will also have to now pay for his own medical and food costs. Most memorably, the protocols stipulate that Assange will also have to clean up after his cat, who goes by @EmbassyCat on Twitter.
— WikiLeaks Shop (@WikiLeaksShop) June 20, 2016
For Assange, though, these new rules are apparently a bridge too far.
“He has been held in inhuman conditions for more than six years,” Garzon said. The lawyer said the rules “violat[ed] his fundamental rights” — and also described the cat-related cleanliness rules as “denigrating.”
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 19, 2018
Assange, who has received Ecuadorian citizenship, played a key role in broadcasting emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, with WikiLeaks publishing the hacked material. Assange has also helped defend the Russian government against accusations that Moscow stole the documents. According to reporting and documents made public over the past few weeks, he even attempted to move to Russia late last year.
But Assange’s plans, which would have seen him appointed as an Ecuadorian diplomat, fell through after Britain announced it wouldn’t recognize the appointment.
The lawsuit also comes as relations between Washington and Quito continue to improve. A letter sent last Tuesday from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) to Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno highlighted those growing ties, but pointed to one thorn still remaining: Assange.
“In order to advance on these crucial matters, we must first resolve a significant challenge created by your predecessor, Rafael Correa — the status of Julian Assange,” the two lawmakers wrote. (Correa now has a show on the Russian RT propaganda outlet, just as Assange once did.)
As they continued:
“It is clear that Mr. Assange remains a dangerous criminal and a threat to global security, and he should be brought to justice…
“We are hopeful about developing warmer relations with your government, but feel that it will be very difficult for the United States to advance our bilateral relationship until Mr. Assange is handed over to the proper authorities.”
There’s no indication Moreno has yet decided to hand Assange to British authorities, but the Wikileaks founder’s lawsuit probably won’t help him remain in Quito’s good graces.