For someone committed to openness, Julian Assange has an extraordinary talent for obfuscation.
The founder of the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has been granted asylum by Ecuador after seeking refuge in its London embassy for the last eight weeks. Nevertheless, he still faces arrest as soon as he steps outside, so that the UK can fulfil its commitment to extradite him to Sweden where he is wanted following accusations of rape and sexual assault.
The UK Government's attempt to end the stalemate has been clumsy. Notifying the Ecuadorian embassy of a law which would allow temporary revocation of the building's diplomatic status was not only legally dubious in the circumstances. It also had the effect of hardening Ecuador's stance.
Mr Assange, an Australian national, has insisted that there is no basis to the allegations but refuses to go to Sweden, which has issued a European arrest warrant for him, for fear he will be extradited to the US where he could face trial over the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables through his website.
The question of whether Mr Assange is cravenly avoiding justice in Sweden, or genuinely in fear of persecution in the US, has been overtaken by the problem of how to resolve the diplomatic stand-off between Britain and Ecuador.
The UK Supreme Court ruled that Mr Assange's extradition to Sweden complies with all the requirements of the UK's Extradition Act, including the protection of his human rights. If, as Mr Assange says, he has been falsely accused, he should expect to be cleared if the case were to proceed to trial in Sweden, a famously progressive, democratic country. His fear of extradition from Sweden to the US may be justified but, if the authorities there want to arrest Mr Assange, why have they not asked the UK to extradite him? And if he were to stand trial there, it would be with the considerable protection of the First Amendment.
By contrast the three-year prison sentence and multi-million pound fine imposed on an Ecuadorian newspaper deemed to have defamed the president makes that country an odd, rather desperate choice for someone who embraces transparency.
Diplomatic immunity has oiled the wheels of international relations for centuries but remains a fragile concept. It is dependent on embassies and foreign legations playing by the rules. These do not include the extension of immunity to anyone wanted for a serious non-political crime.
The situation is highly unsatisfactory for all concerned, with Mr Assange mostly confined to one room within the embassy which has no garden. Considerable diplomatic and legal efforts will now be required to extract Mr Assange from his self-imposed prison but, in the interests of justice, they must succeed.
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