Free speech supporters should NOT be championing Ecuador

The Julian Assange debacle has brought up Ecuador’s not so perfect record of human rights.

WikiLeaks supporters championing Ecuador as the morally superior alternative to “the West” are playing into the hands of a corrupt regime. This cynical exploitation of the ongoing legal saga between Julian Assange and Sweden is an attempt to falsely present itself as a platform for free speech, when human rights observers routinely raise alarm about media censorship and political persecution.

Supporters of the self-styled free speech activist have understandably celebrated Ecuador’s recent decision to grant Assange political asylum, upholding his claim that the battle with Swedish prosecutors investigating allegations of sexual assault is a facade for a witch hunt, which it could well be.

The USA frequently employ rhetoric one would associate with a witch hunt to describe WikiLeaks, and have made no secret of their wish to crush the organisation. But why are so many unwilling to accept that the scrutiny directed at the USA should be applied in equal measure to Ecuador, and -if he wishes to stay true to his own philosophy – Julian Assange?

Assange’s supporters ardently cite freedom of press as their primary motivation, and so they should find its absence in Ecuador deeply unsatisfactory, but when mention is made of the fact that the state reproves journalists who criticise the president and his regime, those raising the question are frequently attacked as complicit in the conspiracy of the United States and ‘perfidious Albion’.

But every supporter of the free speech organisation should be happily complicit with the United States if that means asking questions about the conduct of regimes contravening Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cited in the second paragraph of the Wikileaks’ mission statement on their website, which states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

When questions remain about the freedom of whole societies, why do we continue to feed the egotistic orgy surrounding Assange and his right to free expression? It’s obvious that Western governments have an incentive to cast aspersions on his character and ego, in order to discredit a whistle-blowing project that, for all their protestations, should be celebrated for its achievements and continue indefinitely.

Nonetheless, there’s a deplorable double standard in casting aside criticisms of Assange’s appeal to Ecuador, a state which has acted to suppress independent media and opinion, and ratified constitutional changes which, despite commendably allowing for civil partnerships and the extension of free healthcare, occurred due to the emasculation of the opposition within congress.

Whilst President Rafael Correa has since pardoned journalists given a three-year custodial sentence and $40million fine for making criticisms of his regime, it should be noted that the criticisms are alleged to be defamatory, and potentially are of that nature. The precedent he has set in expanding government control over independent media outlets is a serious cause for concern, and should be treated as such.

Even if the Ecuadorian press is “…mediocre, incompetent, inaccurate, lying and… part of the structure of corruption and accomplice of the national disaster,” as Correa claims, filing a lawsuit against La Horas who called his politics “shameful” is barely the way to refute people who accuse you of dictatorial behavior.

The only certainty emerging from the WikiLeaks/Assange saga is the complexity of international relations, international law, and the unreliable nature of media reporting. It’s difficult to say authoritatively where the corruption lies, and often this discussion distracts from the fact that it manifests in every apex of power, making the themes of citizen journalism, open governance and accountability enshrined by WikiLeaks ever more important.

But if we are to declare solidarity with these principles whilst letting questions about Ecuador slide in order to defend an individual claiming that he should not be accountable to the law, then these principles will inevitably be cheapened.