Now isn’t this precious. We have been struggling for months to bring attention to the fact that WikiLeaks is credibly accused by rights groups of supplying intelligence on dissidents to the repressive regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, “Europe’s last dictatorship.” Now, just as Ecuador has granted asylum to WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange, it seems that President Rafael Correa’s government is considering rescinding the asylum status granted last year to one Aliaksandr Barankov, an exiled whistleblower from—Belarus. Here are the basic facts from the Associated Press, Aug. 21:
Prosecutors in Belarus accuse the 30-year-old Barankov of fraud and extortion. He calls the charges bogus, retribution for his having exposed a petroleum-smuggling ring involving senior officials of President Alexander Lukashenko’s government, including relatives of the leader.
Barankov is backed by rights activists at home, where Lukashenko has ruled for 18 years by fixing elections, quashing free speech, jailing dissidents and keeping 80 percent of industry in state hands.
“They accuse me of fraud and corruption,” Barankov said by phone from prison Friday. “It’s easy to accuse (someone) of this because the police, courts and prosecutor’s office are employees of the president and his family.”
Barankov arrived in Ecuador in August 2009 after fleeing the charges, which he said were filed after he uncovered the smuggling ring. Belarus has been trying to extradite him ever since.
In 2010, when he overstayed his visa, he was imprisoned for 55 days but was freed after authorities granted him refugee status, finding merit in his claim of political persecution.
Belarus continued to press for his extradition, but Judge Carlos Ramirez of Ecuador’s highest court, the National Court of Justice, denied it in October 2011, finding the evidence of Barankov’s alleged crimes inadequate.
Then, on June 7, after a revised extradition request from Belarus, Barankov was arrested by 15 police officers who hauled him from his home in a middle-class neighborhood of northern Quito.
Later that month, Lukashenko visited Ecuador for two days, signing agreements on trade, education, agriculture and the eventual exchange of diplomats with President Rafael Correa. A preliminary defense cooperation agreement was also signed. Under Correa, Ecuador has been deepening commercial and political ties with U.S. rivals including Iran, Russia and China.
“Everything changed after Lukashenko came,” Barankov said by phone from Quito’s cold, overcrowded century-old Prison No. 1. “I want Ecuadoreans to open their eyes and see what’s happening to me.”
An official at the National Court of Justice said that Ramirez could rule as early as Tuesday on the new extradition request and that Barankov could lose despite his refugee status.
It would then be up to Correa to decide whether he is extradited.
This of course affords Radio Free Europe the opportunity to gloat at the double standard.
But we will be watching too, President Correa.