Not another blog about Julian Assange...
If you are still reading, then I'm assuming that neither the title of the blog nor the deluge of recent comment in the mainstream media and the blogosphere since Mr Assange's speech at the Ecuadorian Embassy on 19 August have put you off reading any further.
And I must admit that it is with some trepidation that I sit at my keyboard and type this blog. Because, amid all of the strongly-held views on the subject, I suspect there is one thing on which everyone can agree - Mr Assange polarises opinion like very few other public figures. He is either a hero protecting our fundamental freedoms or (according to a number of US politicians, including Vice President Joe Biden) a terrorist.
There seems to be little by way of middle ground between the two extremes; and I doubt that I can contribute anything to the debate that will actually change anyone's point of view. So I'm not even going to try.
Instead, I want to try to shed some light on the legal issues; starting with the line of argument that suggests Mr Assange has sought asylum in order to avoid being extradited to the USA where his human rights would be at threat because he may end up being tortured or face the death penalty. But, as is explained in this brilliant blog by leading QC, Francis FitzGibbon, that line of argument doesn't help Mr Assange's case. Not only was it not used by his (very distinguished) legal team in any of the hearings before English courts, but European law would prevent anyone being extradited to a country where they faced the risk of torture or death. Indeed, Mr FitzGibbon casts pretty persuasive doubts as to whether Mr Assange is entitled to asylum at all (notwithstanding the fact that it has been granted).
Even if those arguments are ignored, and you accept that Mr Assange is simply playing the best cards available to him, he is open to criticism as to his choice of potential new home. Although Rafael Correa, Ecuador's President, has issued a robust defence of his country's record on press freedom, it does not appear to be the most obvious home for someone campaigning for freedom of information at all cost. Mr Correa stands accused of appointing biased judges who impose unfair penalties on critical journalists and confiscating press computers. Perhaps even more worrying for Mr Assange given WikiLeaks's raison d'être, a proposed penal code attempts to prohibit Ecuadorians from releasing confidential government documents. Mr Assange appears to have gained political asylum in a country that could well lock him up for doing the day job.
Finally, and with apologies for slightly revisiting a point I made back in 2010 when this story first broke, contrast the position in Ecuador with that in Sweden, which still stands accused by Mr Assange's supporters of having trumped up the charges of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion against Mr Assange for nefarious political ends. And yet this is despite the fact that Sweden remains one of the fairest and most just countries in the world.
And that's not me saying that saying that because I think Sweden's a nice place (although I do); it's the World Justice Project who's rule of law index uses 8 factors to assess the strength of the rule of law in 66 countries around the world (although Ecuador hasn't been reviewed). Sweden's rankings are breathtaking: (i) limited government powers (3rd best in the world), (ii) absence of corruption (2nd best), (iii) order and security (5th best), (iv) fundamental rights (1st), (v) open government (1st again), (vi) regulatory enforcement (number 1 again), (vii) access to civil justice (5th) and (viii) effective criminal justice (7th). By way of comparison, the UK's rankings are 9th, 16th, 14th, 13th, 4th, 6th, 10th and 13th. The USA's are 16th, 17th, 13th, 19th, 12th, 15th, 21st and 20th.
If Mr Assange is innocent, then Sweden seems the sort of place where criminal charges trumped up by the government to help silence someone awkward are most likely to fail. Indeed, if you really did face the sort of persecution that would entitle you to political asylum under the UNHCR's 1951 Refugee Convention, you could do a lot worse than ask the Swedes for help.
I can't help but feel that Mr Assange is on very weak ground legally: his arguments don't appear to stack up. Whether you think that matters or can be ignored revisits the hero/terrorist debate which I dodged at the start of the blog and I am going to avoid once again at the end.