On Julian Assange & Political Asylum

Within the last 24 hours, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been granted political asylum by Ecuador. Earlier this week, the Ecuadorian embassy in London reported that British police had threatened to storm the embassy in order to bring Julian Assange to justice. ABC News report here. Here are my thoughts on the matter:

Whoever it was that thought up the idea to storm an embassy must be completely bonkers… a single prisoner isn’t worth an act of war. To quote M in the James Bond movie Casino Royale: “You stormed into an Embassy. You violated the only absolutely inviolate rule of international relations…” I never understood why that was so until I discovered that an embassy is actually the territory of the country in question, so British police would be storming into Ecuador, pretty much. Not a good look.

It’s interesting that out of all the embassies in London that Julian Assange could have taken refuge in, he chose Ecuador. I suspect this was because Ecuador is one of the few countries that isn’t in bed with the United States… unlike Australia. Julian Assange is a citizen of Australia, and the Australian government should have offered Assange a far greater degree of assistance than they have. In essence, Assange seeking political asylum in Ecuador is basically saying that putting himself in Australia’s hands would have put him in personal danger. That’s not a thought I feel comfortable with, as the freedom from political persecution is a right I believe everybody should have.

I suspect the reason Australia haven’t given Assange more support is Geo-political in nature. Australia cannot defend itself in the case of invasion from either Indonesia or China (who I have little doubt would love to invade Australia for the sheer landmass that would afford them). We need the United States to offer us defense support, which is why they have air force bases in the Northern Territory (much as we don’t like them, they are a necessity for national security). If we support Assange against the United States, we’re basically giving a big F-you to the United States, which they won’t like very much… and on it goes.

Of course, this presupposes that Sweden has ulterior motives in it’s prosecution against Assange (that it wants to prosecute him simply to send him to the United States for further question), which is debatable. Very, very likely is that the CIA and FBI would like to question Assange, probably in a dark room somewhere.I remember reading about debate amongst academics in the US as to whether Assange had actually committed a crime (the gist is basically that he didn’t actually leak anything, just publish those leaks; not sure how legitimate those claims are) and thus whether a civilian (I guess US Supreme) court would convict would be marginal.

Basically, nobody could ever predict the outcome of what all this will be… but the way things have played out so far makes perfect sense. With that said, I believe Australia should offer Assange more support, starting now. The more teeth Australia shows in this matter, the more we can stand up and say we believe in human rights.

And then we can do something about the non-illegal “illegal asylum seekers”… but’s that for another day.

Trip to Berlin: Part One

Last Monday I began what turned out to be a 59-hour journey to Berlin in Germany for a holiday an adventure and to see my girlfriend, Stephanie. At around 4pm I got on the plane to Melbourne from Hobart Airport, and then after a considerable wait I got on the plane to London Heathrow at midnight. During the wait I started reading the first book of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, as well as accidently buying a bottle of Pepsi Max (a serious oversight on the airport’s part is not selling Coca-Cola anywhere in the International terminal).

We landed in Heathrow Airport at terminal 4, and my flight to Berlin left from terminal 5. Transferring between the terminals involved an 18-minute bus ride. It has occured to me as I write this that the bus ride between my house and the middle of my city is around 18 minutes on a bad day. I think that worries me. At the other end of this bus ride, I arrived outside one of the biggest buildings I’ve ever seen: London Heathrow terminal 5. I walked inside, up two escalators, along a very long corridoor past a line of depressed looking people, and then into a room where I discovered why they all looked so depressed. Because of the snow falling in London over the last couple of days, a whole heap of flights had been cancelled, and so people were trying to organise other flights. Luckily for me I didn’t have to queue, I overheard a British Airways employee tell somebody to enter Britain, go up to the checkin hall, and book a flight there instead. Because my Australian passport allows me to enter Britain, I did that. At the same time I rang Stephanie (my girlfriend in Berlin) and let her know that I’d be delayed. Of course, she already knew about the snow and the cancelled flight before I was even in Europe.

Unfortunately quite a few people had already done that. I managed after an hour and a half of waiting to talk to another employee of British Airways who booked me in on a flight to Frankfurt the next day. I wasn’t really pleased, but I could tell that under the circumstances it was the best I was going to get. That of course raised the problem of where I was going to sleep that night. After already spending 30 hours in plane seats, another second of uncomfort wasn’t going to go down well. So I joined a queue outside the “British Hotels Reservation Centre” and they found me a hotel near the airport that didn’t cost a mint. BA were giving out £200 compensation for the cancelled flight to provide for accomodation, on provision of a receipt from a hotel. So I made my way to a Holiday Inn, and slept. I woke up the next morning at 5am, and not wanting to go back to sleep in fear of missing my flight (I had been told to check in at 8:30 for a 10:30 flight), I got up and went to the airport on the first bus back. I arrived at the airport at 7am, and already it was busy, mostly with business travellers and a large family “on their way to Cairo”, loudly. In search of something to do, I drew out £20 from an ATM (not remembeing the exchange rate), hoping it would be enough for breakfast. I then walked over to a Krispy Kreme donut shop, and bought a three donuts and cup of tea. It cost £5, so it seems I had quite overestimated the cost.

At 8:30 I checked in to my flight. I handed a baggage receipt to the guy when checking in, and he even managed to confirm my luggage was in London (somewhere) and that it would make it to Frankfurt (probably). During the trip through security I manage to lose my document wallet containing flight details for the trip from Frankfurt to Berlin I had booked the previous night. I didn’t notice until I was fully through security, but luckily an airport worker managed to retrieve it and put it through security to me. After that I found a duty free shop and spent the rest of my British currency on chocolate (about a kilo and a half of it). I’m still eating it now. And that was London. Before I left a contact of mine in England said to “Oh? Heathrow? You’re going to lose all your luggage.” They didn’t lose my luggage, but it’s definitely the most lost I’ve ever felt.

Arriving in Frankfurt was strange. Everything was written in German (to be expected) but about half the signs were written in English as well. I managed to make my way to the Immigration checkpoint, where I was through in under half a minute. I spent longer than that leaving the country in Australia. I arrived at the baggage carousel to find my luggage already spinning around, so I picked it up and proceeded to check in for my next flight. In the hotel in London the previous night when I booked the flight I wasn’t sure how long it would take to transfer from an International flight in a foreign country to a domestic flight, so I went with two hours. I was having panic attacks on the flight thinking it wouldn’t be long enough. It was. It took 20 minutes all up.

Landing in Berlin was the most relieving experience ever. The baggage felt like it took ages to come around, but it probably didn’t. At this stage I was just nervous. After collecting my baggage I went through a series of doors and gates and ended up in the arrivals lounge. I fell straight into the arms of Stephanie. Which was great, because from then on I didn’t have to worry about where I was going anymore. That was her job. Which was a good thing too, because finding our way out of the airport proved to be fun. First we went on a bus to the Hauptbahnhof (their central train station), which was completely insane because I was trying to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road (Stephanie keeps trying to correct me there and point out it IS the right side of the road).

The first thing I have to say about the Berlin train system is that it is COMPLETELY awesome. The second thing I have to say about it is that it is COMPLETELY confusing. I have total admiration for the people who manage it. We caught an S9 train to Stephanie’s house. Although it was dusk going on dark, I still saw some pretty cool sights, like the Berlin TV tower and statues and so on. At Stephanie’s house, I slept. Quite a lot.

The first thing we did the next morning, of course, was have breakfast. And wow, breakfast is cool here. They chocolate-coated muesli (possibly the nicest breakfast cereal ever), and scrambled eggs comes in jars you buy from the supermarket, like a toast spread. Stephanie drinks red tea (Hibiscus flowers or something like that), so that day we went to the supermarket and bought some Twinings tea. Proper stuff. Also that day we went to the Berlin Zoo. We saw quite a few animals, including the Kangaroos that Stephanie was interested in. She was upset because “they didn’t do any skipping”. So we went and ate some McDonalds instead.

I’ll have to leave it at that for this moment. There’s lots more to write about, so be sure that I will.