Julian Assange, Ecuador, and the Belarus Connection

by Bill Weinberg, Al Jazeera

Aliaksandr Barankov is breathing easier, after Ecuador’s highest court on August 28 rejected a request for his extradition to Belarus—the country known as “Europe’s last dictatorship,” facing international isolation for its harsh repression. Barankov, a former police investigator from the ex-Soviet republic, was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2010,  after he was charged with fraud and extortion in his homeland—charges he claimed were bogus, and brought in retribution for having exposed a petrol-smuggling ring implicating high officials of President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Barankov said he feared for his life should he be sent back home. An extradition request by Belarus was refused last October.

But on June 7, Barankov was arrested at his home in Quito, and imprisoned while Ecuador’s courts reviewed a new extradition request from Lukashenko’s government. Shortly thereafter, probably not coincidentally, Lukashenko visited Quito and signed various cooperation pacts with Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. “Everything changed after Lukashenko came,” Barankov told the Associated Press by phone from his Quito prison cell.

Barankov should soon be free again, and the high court’s ruling is a testament to the independence of Ecuador’s judiciary. However, his case probably would have received little international attention if it did not come just as Ecuador has granted diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange, the controversial mastermind of WikiLeaks, which has aroused the ire of Washington with its release of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables. And few media reports have noted the special irony in the juxtaposition of the Assange and Barankov cases: a rights group is demanding a full accounting from WikiLeaks on claims that it may have actively collaborated with the Belarus dictatorship.