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Hours after a UK court rejected the U.S.’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face espionage and hacking charges, the president of Mexico extended a promise of asylum.
In his morning news conference on Monday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the UK's decision to reject extradition due to Assange's mental health and risk of suicide "a triumph of justice." He said he intended to ask Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard to speak with the government of the UK about freeing Assange and sending him to Mexico.
"Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance, I am in favor of pardoning him,” López Obrador said. “We’ll give him protection.”
López Obrador (aka AMLO) has long been a supporter of Assange and WikiLeaks, particularly after the release of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables including several in 2011 that embarrassed AMLO’s political rival, former President Felipe Calderón.
In 2006, López Obrador controversially lost the presidential election to Calderón and claimed election fraud, eventually conceding defeat months later. López Obrador then spent years traveling the country, railing against Calderón's presidency, and the release of WikiLeaks documents during that period gave him added ammunition against the beleaguered leader.
The documents revealed a lack of faith by U.S. authorities in Calderón's drug war, as well as discussing their concern that the stress that he and his cabinet were under was affecting Calderón's ability to govern. The cables also revealed deep-seated fears that Calderón had about López Obrador and his relationship with former Venezuelen leader Hugo Chávez, providing a public example of López Obrador’s continuing relevance in the Mexican political landscape ahead of the 2012 presidential elections.
Although López Obrador lost the presidency for a second time, to Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012, Assange remained in López Obrador's good graces when the famed hacker expressed his support for a student movement that developed to protest the results. In the years following, while in exile in the Ecuador Embassy, Assange participated in several video conferences in Mexico that heavily critiqued Peña Nieto's presidency. López Obrador would finally win the 2018 presidential election in a landslide mostly due to an overwhelming dissatisfaction with the traditional political parties of Calderón and Peña Nieto.
In April 2019, British authorities forcibly removed Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy and placed him in prison, where he spent much of the period in solitary confinement. Months later, López Obrador spoke out on Assange's behalf, asked for his freedom, and compared his situation to "torture."
While the United States’ extraditing Assange could have resulted in a prison term of up to 175 years, López Obrador's announcement on Monday morning—if he follows through—could bring Assange back to North America under very different circumstances. When asked for comment or if they intended to follow through on the request, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry referred VICE World News to AMLO’s statements.