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Mexico to offer asylum to Julian Assange while local journalists are killed

. Jan 10, 2021
assange mexico freedom of speech Outside Woolwich Crown Court, protesters of Julian Assange Extradition Case use placards and tents. Photo: Katherine Da Silva/Shutterstock

Mexico, Latin America’s second most populous country, has a long list of famous figures who have been granted political asylum within its borders. Indeed, in November 2019, when former Bolivian President Evo Morales was deposed in a military coup, he hopped on a plane to Mexico City, where he remained for some time before switching to Argentina.

As Mr. Morales was granted safe haven in Mexico, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted a non-exhaustive list of other political refugees taken in by the Mexican government, including Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, surrealist filmmaker Luís Buñuel, and Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. 

</p> <p>And now, Mexico is set to add another illustrious name to this list, offering political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was recently denied bail in the United Kingdom, where he is currently incarcerated</p> <p>Now, Mexico can add to the list the founder of WikiLeaks, activist and journalist Julián Assange, currently arrested in the United Kingdom.&nbsp;</p> <p>On January&nbsp; 4, the Old Bailey denied Mr. Assange&#8217;s extradition to the U.S., where he is accused of 18 crimes under the Espionage Act and could face a jail sentence of 175 years. In the aftermath of the decision, Mexican President Andrés Manuel &#8220;AMLO&#8221; López Obrador <a href="https://twitter.com/Rodpac/status/1346115272802004992">said that, &#8220;in accordance with tradition,&#8221;</a> the activist would be granted asylum under his administration.&nbsp;</p> <p>But this &#8220;tradition&#8221; is not as cut-and-dried as it may seem. Mexico does base its foreign policy on a strictly legal agenda, through which asylum and refugee requests are often accepted liberally. Furthermore, the government in Mexico City holds a neutral position on controversial debates, such as the socio-economic crisis in Venezuela.</p> <p>However, AMLO&#8217;s promise to provide “protection” to one of the most-famous defendants in the world comes with certain contradictions. While Mexico has offered to help guarantee Mr. Assange&#8217;s basic freedoms, the same cannot be said for the press working inside the country&#8217;s borders. Indeed, Mexico tops global rankings for the most journalists killed in the line of duty.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent NGO defending press freedoms worldwide, says that<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/es/2020/12/22/espanol/america-latina/ataques-periodistas-mexico.html"> at least 30 journalists were killed</a> in Mexico in 2020. Of these, 21 murders were directly related to their work.</p> <p>Though local journalists praise the decision of offering Julián Assange asylum — the Australian activist received the <a href="https://twitter.com/PensarAmericas/status/1137037545060147202">International Journalism Award in 2019</a> from the The Mexican Journalists Club — they also know that improvement in their own protections is urgent.&nbsp;</p> <p>If it’s valid for one journalist, it has to be valid for all of them.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>AMLO and WikiLeaks</strong></h2> <p>Indeed, AMLO could have personal reasons for granting asylum to Julian Assange. According to WikiLeaks, AMLO himself has been targeted by U.S. surveillance <a href="https://www.theyucatantimes.com/2021/01/amlo-offers-julian-assange-political-asylum/">since 2006,</a> when he was a presidential candidate. At that time, AMLO declared the National Security Agency&#8217;s spying as a “violation of sovereignty, freedoms and democracy.”&nbsp;</p> <p>U.S intelligence reportedly monitored protests called by AMLO against the government of then-President Felipe Calderón, as well as conducting a sweeping probe into people close to the future president, then a prominent figure of the opposition. Snooping continued throughout the Barack Obama government, indicating that U.S. intelligence policy is largely a bipartisan issue.&nbsp;</p> <p>So, it would hardly be a shock for AMLO to sign off on Julian Assange&#8217;s political asylum as a personal decision to benefit someone who helped to expose sensitive investigations. As explained by Adolfo Laborde Carranco, an International Relations Professor at Anahuac University in Mexico, this asylum issue involves a “very complex” figure.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is part of Mexico’s diplomatic tradition and also a subtle message to President Joe Biden that Mexico will protect its national interests. And in any case, the U.S.&#8217;s concern has to be with the United Kingdom, which did not authorize the extradition of Julian Assange. Mexico is just being pragmatic,” Mr. Laborde told<strong> The Brazilian Report.</strong>

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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