Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has come out in defense of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and has asked that US authorities drop the charges against him. “If they take him to the United States and he is sentenced to the maximum penalty and to die in prison, we must start a campaign to tear down the Statue of Liberty,” said the president, who often goes by his initials AMLO, at his news conference on Monday. The Mexican leader added that he will discuss the issue with his counterpart, Joe Biden, during his upcoming visit to Washington on July 12.
López Obrador’s comments followed information published this weekend by The Washington Post and the organization Reporters Without Borders, criticizing the situation of insecurity and violence experienced by members of the media in Mexico. Twelve journalists have been murdered in the country so far this year, at a rate of two murders each month. “It is a smear campaign against the government of Mexico,” the president asserted on Monday.
Convicting Assange would imply that the monument in New York “is no longer a symbol of freedom,” said AMLO. The Mexican president said that he had already discussed the issue with former US president Donald Trump. “There can be no silence,” he added.
Assange is wanted in the US on 18 counts, including a spying charge, relating to WikiLeaks’ release in 2010 of vast troves of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables which Washington said had put lives in danger. His extradition was recently approved by the United Kingdom following a long legal battle. The activist had lived at the Ecuadorean embassy in London for seven years, between 2012 and 2019, before being turned over to British authorities. Courts in Spain were also involved after it emerged that the head of the Spanish firm employed to provide security at the embassy had secretly made recordings of Assange speaking with his lawyers and may have conveyed this information to the CIA.
Assange’s supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed US wrongdoing in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech. “When this information was released, various media participated [in its publication], they agreed to release all the information because they considered that it was a contribution to the defense of human rights, to freedom of expression, not to continue with the double talk, with the lies, with saying one thing and doing another,” said López Obrador.
López Obrador was invited to Washington after announcing that he was not going to participate in the Americas Summit organized by the Biden government at the beginning of last month, in protest over the fact that Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were not invited.
Ever since Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum, the López Obrador administration has considered offering diplomatic protection to the founder of WikiLeaks, and there have been contacts between the lawyers who represent him and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The president himself endorsed the offer in May and June, but so far the asylum has not materialized.