Mexico said on Monday it was ready to offer political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, after a British judge blocked his extradition to the United States for spying charges.
“I will ask the Secretary of State to implement the relevant procedures to request that the British Government release Assange and that Mexico offer him political asylum,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told reporters.
The left-wing leader welcomed the British court’s rejection of the US request to extradite the 49-year-old Australian publisher because of the risk of suicide and called it a “triumph of justice”.
“Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance,” he said.
Lopez Obrador said Mexico would ensure that “asylum seekers do not interfere or interfere in the political affairs of any country.”
Mexico has welcomed many political asylum seekers over the years, from Nicaraguan anti-imperialist hero Cesar Augusto Sandino to Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and, more recently, former Bolivian President Evo Morales.
“Mexico has a long history of offering asylum,” Adolfo Laborde, an academic and foreign affairs expert, told AFP.
Whether Assange joins the list depends on the political pressure and the positions of the various actors and countries with an interest in his fate, Laborde said.
Assange is wanted on 18 charges in the United States regarding WikiLeak’s release of 500,000 secret files in 2010 describing aspects of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If convicted in the United States, he faces up to 175 years in prison.
Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States, said the asylum offer risked causing tensions with the incoming government of US President-elect Joe Biden.
He said Lopez Obrador seemed to ignore or overlook WikiLeaks’ publication of 20,000 hacked emails from the 2016 Democratic Hillary Clinton election campaign.
The Mexican president “turns the issue into another potential area of friction with the next US government,” Sarukhan said.
Lopez Obrador’s relationship with Biden had already begun with a rocky start as he was one of the last high-profile leaders to congratulate him on his victory and say he wanted to wait until legal disputes had been resolved.
Activists staged a protest in front of the British Embassy in Mexico City following the court’s decision, demanding the release of Assange.