International NGOs describe Ecuador as a country that is increasingly hostile to both journalists and transparency advocates, neither of which would seem to bode well for Assange. Reporters Without Borders has chronicled one shut-down after another. Last week, Freedom House issued its latest press release detailing the Correa government's ongoing crackdown on journalists: "The closure of another independent media outlet and numerous public comments made by President Rafael Correa attacking private media are an alarming illustration of Correa's growing attempts to silence critical media." The Human Rights Watch page for Ecuador warns, "Ecuador's laws restrict freedom of expression, and government officials, including Correa, use these laws against his critics. Those involved in protests marred by violence may be prosecuted on inflated and inappropriate 'terrorism' charges." Ecuadorian officials have attacked some of the critical NGOs. Wikileaks is not analogous to Freedom House or Human Right Watch, but if Assange were interested in predicting how a governmental transparency organization might be received in Ecuador, he might find some cause for concern.
In May, panelists at the Human Rights Foundations' annual Oslo Freedom Forum dedicated some time to worrying about Ecuador's treatment of media and political dissent, two terms that might be roughly considered to include Assange's own work. Of particular concern was the million-dollar fine that President Correa imposed on an Ecuadorian newspaper for printing a letter to the editor alleging he had been involved in ordering police to fire on demonstrators at a protest in September. The letter's author, ironically, is currently seeking asylum in the U.S.
So why Ecuador? We might now know the answer for some time, if ever, but it's worth noting that only last month, Assange sat down with Correa to interview the Ecuadorian president for his show on the Moscow-sponsored TV channel RT.
"A new generation of Latin American leaders has arisen," Assange opened the segment. "Correa is a left-wing populist who has changed the face of Ecuador. But unlike his predecessors, he holds a Ph.D. in economics. According to U.S. embassy cables, Correa is the most popular president in Ecuador's democratic history. But in 2010, he was taken hostage in an attempted coup d'etat. He blames the coup attempt on corrupt media and has launched a controversial counter-offensive. Correa says the media defines what reforms are possible. I want to know, is he justified? And what is his vision for Latin America?"
The interview began with Correa asking the first question. "Are you in England?" Assange answered, "I am in England, under house arrest." Later, after sharing a joke about Correa's decision to close a U.S. military base in Ecuador, the president asked between laughs, "Are you having a lot of fun with this interview, Julian? I am too." They went on to discuss tension in the U.S.-Ecuador relationship, including Correa's decision to expel the U.S. ambassador.