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ASSANGE EXTRADITION FIGHT

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Ecuador recalls envoy to discuss Assange

Ecuador on Friday recalled its ambassador to Britain to discuss the political asylum application filed by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this week.

“We are calling our ambassador back for consultations because this is a very serious matter,” President Rafael Correa said.

Assange, an Australian national, sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy on Tuesday and asked Quito to give him asylum as he seeks to avoid extradition to

Sweden on allegations of rape, fearing Stockholm will turn him over to the United States.

WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables that embarrassed a slew of governments.

“We are going to proceed cautiously, responsibly and seriously in this case, without bowing to absolutely any pressure,” Correa said.

Ecuador’s ambassador Ana Alban met with British authorities on Wednesday, and Correa said they had had a “very courteous communication” on London’s “point of view.”

“We will take it into account, but Ecuador will make the final decision” on whether to grant Assange’s request, he added.

“He says his life is in danger if he is extradited to the United States where they have the death penalty for political crimes,” Correa said. “He says this is political persecution and that the charges against him are a hoax.”

Assange, a former computer hacker, told Australia’s ABC radio Friday of his fears that he would end up in the hands of the United States, which he says wants to try him for divulging US secrets.

But he conceded there was no current US indictment against him.

“Of course not, at the moment the matter is before the grand jury,” he told ABC. “Until it comes out of the grand jury there will not be such evidence

afforded.”

Correa, who has often been at odds with Washington, appeared to agree with Assange that the charges of rape and sexual assault he faces in Sweden had little substance.

“They are pretty dubious, to say the least,” he said, arguing that “no-one was violated, assaulted against their will, or abused.”

“This was a consensual relationship, but in Sweden it is considered rape if proper protection is not used, and you don’t say that you are not using protection. But otherwise this was a consenting relationship with two women.”

Correa stressed however that his comments did not prejudge what Ecuador’s decision would be on Assange’s request for asylum.

“We will make a decision at the right moment, and it will be a sovereign decision. Ecuador is not for sale, we won’t negotiate away our rights to grant asylum or not to any of the citizens of the world.”

Assange has said he chose Ecuador’s embassy instead of that of his home country’s because he felt Canberra had done nothing to protect him, a charge the government has denied.

“There are serious issues here, and they are being hidden by the slimy rhetoric coming out of the US ambassador to Australia, via (Australian Prime Minister Julia) Gillard… and that needs to stop,” said Assange.

Assange will remain inside the embassy while Ecuador considers his request, a process that could take “hours or days,” a spokesman for the whistleblower website said Thursday.

Britain’s Supreme Court last week threw out Assange’s application to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden after a marathon legal battle.

He has until June 28th to lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, after which the extradition process can begin.

Assange is on £200,000 ($315,000) bail, put up by celebrity supporters including filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the former wife of Pakistan cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan.

The asylum bid is the most dramatic twist yet in a case dating back to December 2010, when Assange was first detained in London on a European arrest warrant.

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Swedish Iranians complain of ‘drastic drop’ in visas for relatives

Iranians living in Sweden are complaining that relatives are no longer being granted visas to visit, causing pain and heartbreak for one of Sweden's most established immigrant communities.

Swedish Iranians complain of 'drastic drop' in visas for relatives

“This has affected our community very greatly,” Kamran Chabokdavan, spokesperson for the Swedish-Iranian interest group, or Intresseföreningen för Svensk-Iranska frågor, told The Local. “There’s so many people who are feeling depressed or mistreated.”

He had planned to marry his Swedish partner in 2019, but has still not been able to as his parents have not been able to get a visa to come to Sweden, despite visiting, and returning back to Iran several times before. 

“If it was the first time that my parents came here, then it would be more reasonable to say that we cannot be sure that you will go back,” Chabokdavan, who works as a vet in Gothenburg, said. “But if the person has been here ten times before, and suddenly you decide to reject the application, that is a little bit odd.” 

The group now has 2,000 members on Facebook and has contacted the embassy in Tehran, Sweden’s foreign ministry, and MPs in two of Sweden’s political parties, who Chabokdavan said had promised to raise the issue in their parties and to the government.

Chabokdavan told The Local that many Iranians were suffering from the shift to a stricter visa policy. 

“Another member in our group had a sister who was a late-stage cancer patient at the hospital, and her parents couldn’t come here to say goodbye to her.” 

Rozita Akrami, a data scientist at Ericsson, also a group member, has collected data showing that Sweden is now the worst country in the Schengen area for giving visiting visas to Iranians, with only 35 percent of visa applications by friends and relatives of citizens accepted. 

She claims there was a “drastic drop” in the acceptance rate, from 55 per cent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2019, with France accepting 75 percent of visa applications from residents’ relatives that year and Switzerland 79 percent. 

“It seems that the Swedish embassy in Iran has decided to apply stricter criteria, which are really, really unclear,” Chabokdavan said. “It’s really not clear what’s the criteria is here, or why they are rejecting so many documents.” 

In a judgement from last week, the Migration Court ruled that the tougher approach taken by the Swedish embassy in Tehran was justified by a recent rise in the number of Iranians granted visas to Sweden who had then decided to stay and apply for asylum.  

“The embassy further notes that in recent years hundreds of Iranian citizens have applied for residency in Sweden after travelling in on a visa that had been granted,” the court said, justifying its decision to reject an appeal. 

“The embassy can point to the Migration Agency’s reports that a several of these people had had been granted visas previously, even several visas. As a result, visas previously awarded are not a strong indicator of an intention to return.” 

In its judgement, it also noted that sanctions against Iran had resulted in a “severely worsened economy”, with “high unemployment and a weakened currency”, while also pointing to growing “repression of religious minorities” and “imprisonment of political dissidents”. 

In a letter to the embassy in Tehran the group complained that there was no mechanism to replace documents rejected by the Swedish authorities, or to send in missing documents. The group also called for clarity on how applicants’ economic situation was assessed and how relevant it was, and called for the embassy to publish its official statistics from 2015 to 2022. 

“This is about parents who have lived for 60 to 70 years in their homeland and visited Sweden several times while always leaving the Schengen region before their visa has expired,” they wrote. 

Chabokdavan said that in some of the rejection letters, applicants had been told that the worsening economic situation in Iran made Sweden’s authorities worried that visiting relatives would not now return. 

Other rejection letters, he said, had stressed that just because the applicant had visited Sweden and then returned home to Iran many times before, did not mean that they could be relied upon to do so again. 

He said that it was unclear what documents would be enough to prove how well established and tied to Iran the visa applicants are. 

Iranians, who came to Sweden both after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, are one of Sweden’s most successful migrant groups, with 60 percent getting a university education, and many working within universities, or in high skilled professions.   

“These are people who are really established in Sweden by their job or their studies,” Chabokdavan said. “And their parents usually have a strong, economical base in Iran, otherwise, they couldn’t get this kind of visa from the beginning.”

The Local has contacted the Swedish foreign ministry and the embassy in Tehran for comment. 

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