THE WEEK IN LATIN AMERICA

Ecuador court decides not to extradite military official to Belarus

Judge rejects controversial request, with echoes of ongoing Assange affair

Agencies El País
Quito -
Alexander Barankov: "They saved my life."
Alexander Barankov: "They saved my life."AP

A judge from Ecuador's highest court has rejected a controversial extradition request from Belarus to Ecuador, which has drawn widespread media attention in recent days. The National Court of Justice has ruled against handing over Alexander Barankov, a former military official from Belarus, where capital punishment still exists.

Barankov is a former captain in the Belarus army who is wanted back home on charges of fraud and bribery. In 2009, he fled the country and went to Ecuador, which granted him refugee status a year later on the grounds that he was being persecuted and needed international protection.

The case attracted international attention earlier this month after Ecuador granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently holed up in the country's London embassy.

The government of Belarus requested Barankov's extradition in 2011, but the National Court of Justice dismissed the petition. Belarus insisted again this year, and this time the justices had Barankov arrested and jailed on June 7 "for extradition purposes."

Barankov is accused of trying to bribe an oil company while he was serving on a state research body, a charge that he denies. The government of Alexander Lukashenko asserted in the Ecuadorean court that it will not enforce the death sentence if Barankov is turned in, but his lawyer, Fernando Lara, does not trust these statements and notes that all the latest events in connection with the case coincide with Lukashenko's visit to Ecuador in late June.

That same month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, denounced "serious violations" of human rights in Belarus.

Barankov's lawyer told EL PAÍS that he sees at least three points in common between his client and Julian Assange: both claim to be persecuted; the Australian national revealed classified information on his WikiLeaks site while Barankov started a blog called Belaruslibre (Freebelarus) in Quito, reporting alleged cases of corruption and human rights violations back home; both men fear the death penalty.

"I'm happy, they saved my life," Barankov told the press over the phone from jail. He was expected to be released on Wednesday.

Asked by the foreign press about the case, President Correa said he would rather not issue an opinion until the National Court of Justice reaches a decision. Asked about the reports of human rights violations in Belarus, Correa retorted: "So what about Lukashenko, how many years has he been in power? And how long have European monarchies been in power? I see contradictions in some speeches."

For his part, Ecuador's deputy chancellor, Marco Albuja, said that "if it is determined that the life of the citizen [Barankov] is at risk, that he could face the death sentence or life imprisonment, then we will act with the same parameters that we are demanding for Mr Assange."

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