Leaders: Only Assange can resolve strange asylum stand-off
WHATEVER privation Julian Assange is suffering from his confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, it will have been relieved in part by his extraordinary global press conference delivered from the balcony yesterday.
In this, he urged the US to end its “witch-hunt” against WikiLeaks, and called for the release of Bradley Manning, awaiting trial in the US accused of leaking classified documents to the WikilLeaks site.
It is difficult to see either Sweden or the US government responding to a public harangue from the balcony of an overseas embassy, particularly given the background to this case. Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, is wanted in Sweden in connection with allegations of sexual offences.
The Swedish government has sought his extradition from the UK. Mr Assange resisted this request, concerned, inter alia, that Sweden might extradite him to the US where he fears he would face questioning arising from the publication of US government documents on his WikiLeaks site.
Having lost his legal appeals, he then took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. A statement from the UK Foreign Office last week that it might use a little-known 1987 Act to enter the embassy has inflamed both Mr Assange’s supporters and the Ecuadorian government, which has now granted him political asylum.
However, since Mr Assange would risk arrest were he to step out of the embassy to make his way to Ecuador, the stand-off continues, at some cost in security to the UK as the embassy now has to be patrolled on a 24-hour basis.
Mr Assange believes he has performed a service by publishing classified documents relating to the conduct of that country’s foreign affairs. In this he has received widespread and voluble support. But it is not the pros and cons of his actions here that are at issue. The UK government has received a request for his extradition to Sweden and that is a request with which it is legally bound to comply. The request does not pertain to the breaching of US secrets but to allegations of sexual misconduct. The Swedish government has made this plain.
What does Mr Assange have to fear from Swedish law? Sweden is not a rogue state. It does not oppress minorities or repress human rights. It is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. It has a separate and independent judicial system. That system is respected internationally, as is the country’s liberal ethos and culture. This is more than can be said for Ecuador.
Mr Assange is the author of this extraordinary stand-off. And it is within his power to resolve it. He has protested his innocence against the sexual allegations and should thus have nothing to fear by returning to Sweden and answering the questions that face him.
In the meantime, the UK must exercise patience and restraint until Mr Assange sees what he has to do in his own best interest.
Private-state share for sake of sport
In the afterglow of the extraordinary success of UK athletes in the Olympic Games, there is a widespread determination to enhance and improve sports facilities for young people.
It is in this spirit that Lord Moynihan, the outgoing chairman of the British Olympic Association, has called on private schools to share their sports facilities with state primaries. This, he added, should be in return for the tax breaks they enjoy through their charitable status. The issue has particular resonance in Scotland, where the charity regulator prepares to investigate the public benefit of Scotland’s private schools. The aim is to widen access in return for maintaining their status as charities.
There is no doubt that there is now a far greater public awareness of the importance of sport in schools and that sharing facilities should be encouraged. The gap between private and state school success needs to be narrowed. No child should be held back or talent undeveloped because of lack of amenity. Many private schools already have arrangements in place for making available their sports grounds for state schools and the wider community.
0pHowever, all who make use of these facilities should make a contribution to their upkeep and maintenance.
In addition to the fees that parents have to pay, many have made additional contributions to raise money for sporting equipment through myriad fund-raising activities – coffee mornings, quiz nights, bazaars and bring-and-buy sales. Regular small amounts can add up to a useful stream of income. These are the means by which state schools could make a valuable contribution to support sports education for all.
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