The grant of extradition to WikiLeaks founder and alleged sex-crime perpetrator Julian Assange by Ecuador is the most bewildering twist yet in this long, bizarre saga. Up to now, the government of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was better known for stifling freedom of the press at home than for championing the free flow of information. If ever there was an odd coupling of convenience, this is certainly it.
There’s no mystery over why Mr. Assange, a 41-year-old Australian, should choose to go on the run, defy his bail conditions in Britain and seek asylum in any country willing to stick its neck out for him — any port in a storm, and Ecuador’s embassy in London would do as well as any other.
But for Mr. Correa, the only way to explain this strange and otherwise inexplicable maneuver is the president’s apparently urgent desire to burnish his anti-American credentials and claim for himself some of the notoriety and adulation from leftist sympathizers that he feels is his due.
Next door in Venezuela, poor Hugo Chávez must be beside himself with envy to see a neighbor steal the anti-yanqui spotlight: Why didn’t he take cover in my embassy?
If Mr. Correa had any credibility as a defender of press freedom at home, his support for Mr. Assange could be written off as a mere quixotic venture. But his record is one of repeated attacks on free speech in any form.
Since taking office, Mr. Correa’s government has mounted an unending assault on the independent news media, consistently stoking the fires of anti-Americanism along the way. In June, the Inter American Press Association sounded yet another alarm, this one over the recent closure of six radio and TV stations.
Last month, Human Rights Watch condemned his government for using harsh criminal defamation laws to silence critics and violate its international human rights obligations. In a recent interview, an Ecuadorean journalist said he wished the government would offer its own reporters the same level of protection it extends to Mr. Assange, instead of harassing them at every turn.
After all this, it’s ridiculous for Mr. Correa to think he can don the mantle of press freedom by reaching out to an accused criminal fleeing the due process of law.
It’s equally absurd for Mr. Assange, whose supporters see him as an anti-authoritarian hero, to align himself with a budding despot like Mr. Correa while claiming to be a martyr for freedom of information.
Mr. Assange sees himself as the victim of an international political plot, a sinister U.S.-led effort to make him face prosecution in this country over the extensive disclosure by WikiLeaks of secret U.S. cables. But he has a selective view of the law. He’s happy to take advantage of political asylum laws, but won’t face extradition to Sweden, where he’s wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes.
Mr. Assange claims Sweden only wants him so that he can be turned over to U.S. authorities. Yet there is no U.S. request for extradition, nor is he charged with any crime in this country. And Sweden has a strong tradition of granting asylum to victims of persecution.
Ecuador should reserve asylum for genuine victims of government persecution, rather than grant it to a figure who disdains the laws of two democracies (Britain and Sweden) in pursuit of his own political agenda. To end the impasse, Ecuador should seek assurances from Sweden that Mr. Assange’s rights will be respected, then persuade him that leaving the embassy is the best option for everyone.