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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/23/19

Before Ousting Assange, Moreno Government Spied on the Journalist for Over a Year

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WikiLeaks Claims Ecuadorian Embassy Is Spying On Julian Assange
WikiLeaks Claims Ecuadorian Embassy Is Spying On Julian Assange
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LONDON -- Like the proverbial "shot heard round the world," the U.K.'s arrest and imprisonment of publisher and journalist Julian Assange officially signaled the Western world's war on a free press. The Australian who founded WikiLeaks, but stepped down as editor-in-chief last year, was ousted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London last week after Ecuador President Lenin Moreno revoked his political asylum, and arrested by the U.K.'s Metropolitan Police. He was seen holding a copy of Gore Vidal: History of the National Security State while men dressed in suits perhaps in a futile effort to make the arrest look a bit less repugnant dragged the publisher out, handcuffed and resisting.

As in previous accounts given by visitors to the embassy, Assange looked thin and in need of health care, but he appeared alert and defiant under the alarming circumstances. "The U.K. must resist! Resist this attempt by the Trump administration!" he hollered before being seen giving a thumbs up inside the police van as it rolled away. Within a few hours, authorities had hauled him into a courtroom devoid of any jury or the right to defend himself, where a judge found him guilty of violating bail conditions almost seven years ago. He will be sentenced in a few weeks, meanwhile remaining at Belmarsh, a southeast London prison notoriously known for housing terrorist suspects.

Assange's arrest has been a long time in the making. Although Ecuador safeguarded his political asylum under former President Rafael Correa's government, the political landscape in Ecuador shifted dramatically to the right with the election of Moreno, who has spent his entire presidency making backroom deals and manipulating Assange's asylum in an effort to hand him over to the U.S.

For instance, President Donald Trump's close friend Ivonne Baki, an Ecuadorian ambassador who is currently stationed in Qatar, brokered meetings with Paul Manafort and President Moreno during which Moreno expressed his desire to expel Assange in return for U.S. concessions. Baki also has a sordid history of lobbying in the interests of U.S. oil company Chevron, which was hit with a $9.2 billion judgment for egregiously damaging Ecuador's environment and the health of those who lived in the areas they contaminated -- a judgment that Moreno may very likely negate.

Moreno has also spent the last two years shoring up bilateral relations with the U.S. through private investments, military agreements, and billion-dollar IMF loans that the former foreign minister of Ecuador, Ricardo Patino, recently agreed had come with a price: the sovereignty of Ecuador for the delivery of Julian Assange.

As for direct attacks on Assange, Moreno forced him to live under a series of protocols that had no legal backing, restricted his speech, and were constructed as a tripwire to revoke his asylum. The arbitrary rules were implemented after Moreno cut off Assange's access to phone calls and the internet over a year ago. But aside from Moreno's illegal revocation of both Assange's asylum and his Ecuadorian citizenship, which gave him protection from extradition under Ecuador's constitution, perhaps the most underhanded assault that Moreno delivered was the one that nobody saw: the spying.

Moreno government spied on political asylee

Moreno's decision to end Assange's asylum and throw him to the wolves of Washington came after weeks of simmering tensions between the Ecuadorian government and the Australian publisher. On April 4 WikiLeaks accused Moreno of using the INA Papers -- a leaked batch of documents uploaded to inapapers.org that included Moreno's personal emails, text messages, and family photos -- as a pretext to expel Assange from the embassy. The government denied the allegations but didn't stop short of publicly accusing Assange of the hack.

The General Assembly in Ecuador has since opened an investigation into Moreno's alleged criminal activities based on the leaked material, so it's likely that he is using Assange's expulsion and subsequent arrest to distract from the scandal. However, it's also likely that he's trying to bury the shocking revelations that his government, allegedly under his direction, conducted an extensive surveillance operation against Assange, revelations that have already been forgotten by the press.

Last Wednesday, WikiLeaks held a press conference with Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, and former consul to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Fidel Narvaez, in which they announced that Moreno's government had been spying on Assange, a political asylee and journalist, for over a year.

Newly installed high-resolution cameras with the ability to record audio tracked Assange's every move, including meetings with his attorneys and examinations performed by his doctor. Robinson said that they had "long been concerned about surveillance," and that the Ecuadorian government's actions were a severe breach of client-attorney privilege that undermined their ability to defend their client.

Even more brazen was the fact that embassy staff committed firsthand acts of espionage against Assange. In one particularly damning episode, Assange's attorney left strategy notes for a court case against the state on a conference room table after which the staff actually stole and copied them.

WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hraffnson remarked that Assange's life in the embassy was like the "Truman Show," a reference to the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey as an insurance salesman whose entire life is live-streamed 24 hours a day worldwide without his knowledge or consent. Narvaez, who spent six years at the embassy with Assange, described it as the most surveilled place on the planet. According to both men, the high-tech cameras that had captured and stored Assange's life were installed in the embassy after Moreno came to power and therein lies the heart of the matter.

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