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  • Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since the summer of 2012.

    Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since the summer of 2012. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 February 2017

The next elected president of Ecuador may expel WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from his asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. A Twitterstorm demanded they don't.

Ecuador was hit by a Twitterstorm on Thursday as people around the world joined a national campaign to pressure the South American country's right-wing presidential candidates to retract their promises to kick famed whistleblower Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

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The action, led by WikiLeaks and mostly organized from Ecuador, made #ElMundoConAssange, translated as "the world stands with Assange," a trending hashtag in Ecuador.

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

He said that a network in Latin America and the United States came together to pull off the event and estimated that tens of thousands of tweeters participated in around 20 countries across the globe.

The Andean country granted asylum to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who sought sanctuary in the Ecuadorean 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.

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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 Ecuadoreans that, "the world is bigger than your backyard."

While he doesn't agree that most Ecuadoreans 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.

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"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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