Assange 'split' Ecuador and Spain over Catalan independence
Julian Assange’s intervention on Catalan independence created a rift between the WikiLeaks founder and the Ecuadorian government, which has hosted Assange for in its London embassy, the Guardian has learned.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Assange’s support for the separatists, including a meeting in November, led to a backlash from , which in turn caused deep concern within Ecuador’s government.
While Assange’s role in the has been an intense focus of US prosecutors, his involvement in Spanish politics appears to have caused Ecuador the most pain.
The Ecuadorians and ended his access to visitors on 28 March, saying he had breached an agreement at the end of last year not to issue messages that might interfere with other states.
Quito has been to what it increasingly sees as an untenable situation: hosting one of the world’s most wanted men.
In November 2017, Assange hosted two supporters of the Catalan independence movement, whose push for secession from Spain had plunged the country into its since returning to democracy. Assange has said he supported the right to “self-determination” and argued against “repression” from Madrid.
He was visited by Oriol Soler, a Catalan businessman and publisher, and Arnau Grinyó, an expert in online communications campaigns. Their meeting, which was , took place a little over a month after the , and 13 days after the Spanish government responded to the unilateral declaration of independence by sacking the administration of the then Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and assuming direct control of the region.
Assange has been a vocal critic of Madrid’s handling of the Catalan crisis and as “the redefinition of the relationship between people and state”, and “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi”.
Though Assange’s supporters deny he explicitly supported Catalan independence, his tweets and videos on the issue annoyed the Spanish government.
A Spanish diplomat told the Guardian that Spain “conveyed a message” to Ecuadorian authorities that Assange was using social media to support the secessionist movement and sending out messages “that are at odds with reality”.
“Spain and are obviously countries that maintain a constant and fluid dialogue in which matters of interest to both parties, including this issue, are raised and discussed,” the diplomat said.
“Spain has, on a number of occasions, informed the Ecuadorian authorities of its concerns over the activities that has engaged in while in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.”
The source said Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, had also addressed the issue when it arose in November, saying attempts had been made “to intervene, manipulate and affect what should be the natural democratic course of events in Catalonia”.
In December, Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, reminded Assange that he should in Ecuadorian politics.
US intelligence agencies and Spanish authorities have separately claimed that in their domestic affairs. US agencies have accused WikiLeaks of working with Russian intelligence to try to disrupt the US election by from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Spanish officials have suggested that much of the messaging on social media about the Catalan crisis originated in Russia.
Soler and Grinyó declined to comment on their meeting with Assange. However, in a tweet written the embassy, Soler said the Catalan independence movement sympathised with Assange, as its leaders and activists had “suffered jail, exile, spying, censorship, injustice, fake news and financial blockades”. The visit, he added, had been transparent and legal.
In 2016, Assange met two members of the anti-austerity party , according to visitor logs obtained by the Guardian in conjunction with the magazine Focus Ecuador.
They were Pablo Bustinduy, the foreign affairs spokesman, and Miguel Ongil, a deputy in the Madrid regional assembly and a party funding, transparency and anti-corruption expert. Podemos opposed a unilateral referendum on secession, but said it would in principle have supported an independence referendum agreed between the Spanish and Catalan governments.
A spokesman for Podemos told the Guardian: “Pablo Bustinduy visited Assange in the embassy while on a trip to London to take part in the pro-remain Brexit campaign. He was accompanied by Miguel Ongil, a specialist in the fields of transparency and political participation.
“It was an informal visit, during which they discussed the issues of protecting whistleblowers, freedom of expression and information in , and democracy on the internet. They also inquired after his legal situation.”
A spokesperson for Ecuador’s foreign ministry said: “[We reiterate that] Ecuador maintains excellent and fraternal relations with Spain and the vast majority of countries.”
This article was written in collaboration with Fernando Villavicencio and Cristina Solórzano from Focus Ecuador