Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Monday called a U.K. judge's decision not to extradite Julian Assange to the United States "a triumph of justice" and said his country would offer the WikiLeaks founder political asylum.
"Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance," López Obrador, or AMLO as he is frequently called, said at a press conference Monday. The president said that he's in favor of a pardon for Assange, who's been at the maximum-security Belmarsh prison in London since April 2019 and faces 17 counts of violated the Espionage Act.
"I'm going to ask the foreign minister... to ask the U.K. government about the possibility that Mr. Assange go free and that Mexico offer him political asylum," said López Obrador, pointing to "our tradition, which is protection." The asylum offer, he added, would be on the condition that Assange not "interfere in the political affairs of any country."
Mexico's President AMLO announces that Mexico is offering political asylum to Julian Assange, citing not only Mexico's tradition of protecting people from political persecution but also its "responsibility" to do so. https://t.co/3SfM4rEBSi
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 4, 2021
The asylum offer came the same day Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates' Court rejected the Trump administration's attempt to extradite Assange. Her decision was based not on press freedom grounds but a "substantial" risk Assange would commit suicide in the face of the American incarceration system's harsh conditions.
"Faced with the conditions of near total isolation without the protective factors which limited his risk at Belmarsh, I am satisfied the procedures described by the U.S. will not prevent Mr. Assange from finding a way to commit suicide," said Baraitser, "and for this reason I have decided extradition would be oppressive by reason of mental harm and I order his discharge."
Lopez Obrador has previously spoken out about Assange's plight and previously called Assange's treatment in the London prison torturous.
The president's comment about his country's "tradition" of granting protection is well-grounded. In an op-ed last month at the Washington Post, historian Debbie Sharnak pointed to Mexico's asylum offer to former leftist Bolivian leader Evo Morales. She wrote, in part:
For decades, Mexico has served as a place of asylum for exiles, and this history has become embedded in the fabric of Mexican politics and identity. While Mexico's domestic history often involved political repression and hostility to migrants, the country has consistently projected an image of what scholars have called "revolutionary progress" through its high-profile offers of asylum to exiled leaders. Seeking to consolidate this reputation in the decades after the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century, Mexico framed itself as a welcoming place for progressive ideas and persecuted people, a policy that has continued. [...]
López Obrador's offer of asylum to Morales is far from an aberration—and is perhaps part of a strategy to distract the public from Mexico's own treatment of migrants from Central American countries.
Mexico is also the deadliest country in the western hemisphere for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
"When he took office in December 2018, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged to take concrete steps to end violence against the press and impunity for journalist murders," the press freedom group said last month. "Yet this cycle continues unabated."