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Ecuador Tells Presidential Candidates: 'Keep Julian Assange Safe'

South American country's people unite with WikiLeaks founder

By: Jay Greenberg  |@NeonNettle
 on 18th February 2017 @ 4.29pm
the people of ecuador urge their presidential candidates to keep julian assange safe © Press
The people of Ecuador urge their presidential candidates to keep Julian Assange safe

The Ecuadorian people have united against their presidential candidates in a bid to protect WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, from being expelled from his asylum at Ecuador's embassy in London.

The South American country's right-wing presidential candidates have promised to end Assange's stay at the Ecuadorian embassy when they take office but have now faced a backlash from a national campaign for them retract their promises to kick the whistleblower out when they're elected.

Citizens have taken to Twitter in a campaign led by WikiLeaks and organized from Ecuador, to create a Twitterstorm with the trending hashtag, #ElMundoConAssange, which translates to "the world stands with Assange".

Felipe Ogaz Oviedo, who launched the campaign in Ecuador, said, "In the end, it was a beautiful thing — so much solidarity".

Tens of thousands of Twitter users came together from 20 countries around the world in an event that was carried out by a network in Latin America and the United States, according to Oviedo.

Telesur reports: The Andean country granted asylum to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who sought sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London fearing that a Swedish investigation into sexual assault allegations against him is being used as a means to extradite him to the U.S.

Supporters of WikiLeaks, as well as human rights and freedom of information organizations, fear that if Assange is extradited to the U.S. — where many suspect a secret grand jury has issued a warrant for his arrest related to one or more of WikiLeaks' publications documenting U.S. war crimes — he would not receive a fair hearing, considering the U.S. torture of WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning, as well as death threats made against him by multiple high-ranking U.S. officials.

The Twitterstorm, besides trying to change the minds of the leading opposition candidates, was meant to challenge the "manipulation" of Assange's story — where right-wing politicians portray him as a criminal rather than a "hero for the freedom of information" — in order to gain more votes, said Ogaz.

Ogaz said that with the Twitterstorm he wanted to show Ecuadorians that, "the world is bigger than your backyard."

While he doesn't agree that most Ecuadorians want to see Assange kicked out of the embassy, he said that misinformation has convinced many that Assange either deserves to be put on trial or that his stay in the embassy is costing too much money.

"In Ecuador, there's a lack of awareness that's largely the fault of the government for not explaining their reasons for keeping him in the embassy,” said Ogaz.

Both opposition figures battling to face off the ruling part's candidate have said they would expel Assange from the embassy, each for their own reasons.

Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker, said he would give Assange a month's notice before forcing him out on moral grounds.

"Ecuador had no business spending a single cent protecting someone who definitely leaked confidential information," he told reporters.

His competitor, Cynthia Viteri, has said that the public money invested in keeping him there should be redirected "to be able to use (the money), for example, to buy lunch for my schoolchildren."

The ruling party's candidate, the socialist Lenin Moreno, said that he would protect Assange but would ask him to " be very delicate when he addresses international politics, especially regarding countries with which we have good relations."

Neither Lasso nor Viteri has retracted their threat, but Ogaz said that the campaign's energy will be focused on what he expects will be the second round of presidential elections.

In that case, Ogaz is planning to use street protests, festivals, political murals and "any tool at our disposal," to make Assange's case. He said that Twitter is "a beauty" in its ability to speak directly to people in power and break the media echo chamber, but that "just like with any fight," the Twitterstorm must be backed up with actions on the ground.

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