Mexico’s president has offered asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, hours after a British judge refused to extradite Assange to the US to face espionage charges.
“Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance, I am in favor of pardoning him,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters on Monday, saying “we'll give him protection.”
“Our tradition is protection,” Obrador added.
Earlier on Monday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to extradite Assange to the US, where he has been charged with 18 counts of conspiring to hack US government computers, and with the publication of confidential military records. Baraitser did not take issue with the charges against Assange, but found that extradition would be oppressive, given Assange's mental health, and would leave the publisher at risk of suicide.
The US is expected to appeal the ruling, and Assange is still being held in London’s Belmarsh Prison pending a bail hearing on Wednesday. His supporters have lobbied US President Donald Trump
to grant him a pardon, but Trump has not yet indicated that he will.
Assange has already lived much of the past decade in asylum, having been sheltered by Ecuador inside its embassy in London between 2012 and 2019. However, a change in Ecuador’s political leadership saw right-winger Lenin Moreno assume power in 2017 and, shortly after that, claim that Assange had violated the conditions of his asylum. He was dragged out of the embassy by British police in April 2019.
Were Assange to take Lopez Obrador up on his offer, he would likely have to weigh the president’s promise of protection against the fact that Obrador could be voted out of office in 2024, when his six-year term concludes.
Since taking office, Lopez Obrador has pursued an idiosyncratic foreign policy. On one hand, the left-wing president sheltered Bolivian President Evo Morales following a right-wing coup in 2019 and refused to follow the lead of the US and its allies in Latin America and recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president last year.
On the other hand, Lopez Obrador has been largely supportive of US President Donald Trump
’s administration. The Mexican leader tightened up security at his southern border when Trump railed against Central American migrant “caravans” entering the US via Mexico, and was repaid by Trump during negotiations with OPEC last year, when the US President intervened to help Mexico avoid cuts to oil production.