Mexico's Lopez Obrador Wants to Give Asylum to Julian Assange

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks at a press conference in Mexico City on Dec. 8, 2020. (Photo: by Francisco Canedo/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Mexico's Lopez Obrador Wants to Give Asylum to Julian Assange

"Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance," the Mexican president said Monday.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez 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," Lopez 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 Lopez 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."

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. [...]

Lopez 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 Andres Manuel Lopez 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."

Join the Movement: Become Part of the Solution Today

We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.

Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.