Warning to Assange: how Quito treated another asylum seeker
As Assange shelters in Ecuadorean embassy, the fate of another whisteblower comes to light
JULIAN ASSANGE may feel that he is safe from his persecutors in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. But as another anti-establishment blogger who sought sanctuary in the South American country has discovered, the promise of asylum is no guarantee of his safety.
Aliaksandr Barankov is sitting in jail in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, awaiting the outcome of extradition proceedings to his native Belarus - two years after he was granted asylum by Ecuador.
According to CBS, "The former financial crimes investigator is in imminent danger of losing his political refugee status and being sent home, where he says he could be killed because he unearthed corruption at the highest levels of government."
The former army captain arrived in Ecuador from Belarus in 2009, fleeing charges against him bought by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, nicknamed "Europe's last dictator". Once in Quito he set up a blog denouncing corruption and "other crimes" in his homeland.
But while he was initially granted refugee status, Time magazine says he was arrested earlier this year when Lukashenko visited Ecuador for trade talks.
The case has caused a stir in Europe. Rounding up coverage of the Assange affair in Germany, Spiegel magazine quotes left-wing paper Die Tageszeitung, which has accused both the UK and Ecuador of "unbelievable... international hypocrisy".
It claims Barankov was arrested immediately after Ecuador and Belarus signed a series of trade agreements. "Against this background, the flowery words of Ecuador's foreign minister about the huge importance of political asylum don't hold much value."
Meanwhile, Barankov's Ecuadorean girlfriend told Associated Press: "We were more or less relaxed until President Lukashenko came. Immediately afterwards, Ecuadorean authorities didn't want to renew his ID card and they wouldn't give us any explanation."
Now he is in jail and campaign groups in Belarus say he is on hunger strike.
An Ecuadorian official claimed they had been given "a signed guarantee from the Belarusian government" that Barankov would not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment if he was sent home.
But one Belarusian human rights activist said the persistence of the authorities was "alarming". She told AP: "This might be the proof that he does know Lukashenko's secrets... In this case, it’s very dangerous for him to be in Belarus."