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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum


  1. Does WikiLeaks’s Founder Qualify for Asylum?

    This article was originally posted on the Asylumist:
    WikiLeaks's Founder Julian Assange has been much in the news lately, having revealed all sorts of U.S. state secrets related to war and diplomacy.  The United States is exploring whether the Australian-born computer hacker can be prosecuted criminally under the espionage act, and Sweden has issued an international arrest warrant, stating that Mr. Assange is "suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion."  Australia is also threatening to arrest him on unspecified charges if he returns. 
    As a result, Mr. Assange-who denies the charges-has been hiding somewhere in London, and is considering seeking asylum in Switzerland or Ecuador.  But does Mr. Assange qualify for political asylum under international law?
    To obtain asylum, an individual must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in his home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group. 
    Thus, the first question is whether a nexus exists between any potential persecution and one of the protected grounds, in this case political opinion.  Under U.S. law, whistle blowing can be a form of political activity that forms the basis for an asylum claim.  So assuming Mr. Assange's activities constitute whistle blowing (which seems an open question), he has expressed a political opinion, which could form the basis for an asylum claim.
    Another question is whether Mr. Assange has a well-founded fear of persecution in Australia.  The Australian government has threatened to arrest him, though for what crime remains a mystery.  Even if he were arrested in Australia, I know of no evidence supporting the conclusion that Australia persecutes its criminals.  His detention alone-even if it were for an illegitimate reason-would only constitute persecution if the conditions of that detention were dangerous and life-threatening, a situation that does not exist in Australia.
    A more interesting question is whether Mr. Assange could obtain asylum from Australia if the Australian government would extradite him to a third country where he faces persecution.   Currently, Mr. Assange could be extradited to Sweden, where he faces sexual assault charges, or the U.S., which is considering charges of espionage.  Although the United States's human rights record has been tainted of late, I doubt Mr. Assange could demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in either the U.S. or Sweden.  But what if Australia planned to extradite Mr. Assange to another country that does persecute its citizens?  I know of no case law or precedent that would allow Mr. Assange to obtain asylum from Australia on the basis that Australia planned to extradite him to a third country where he would be persecuted.    
    So even if Mr. Assange could show that he faces prosecution in Australia or that the Australian government would turn him over to Sweden or the U.S., he would have a hard time showing that he has a well-founded fear of persecution in any of those countries.   While Mr. Assange probably does not meet the international law standard for asylum, his notoriety gives him opportunities not available to other asylum seekers.  Already, Ecuador has (informally) offered him residency.  Other countries might well follow suit, either because they think it is the right thing to do, or because they want to aggravate the United States and the West.  But if they do grant asylum to Mr. Assange, it won't be because he meets the requirement for asylum under international law.
  2. Venezuelan TV Channel Owner Seeks Asylum in the U.S.

    According to El Universal, Guillermo Zuloaga, the main owner of Venezuela's news network Globovisión, has filed for asylum in the United States.  He claims that he is a victim of "political persecution" by the Hugo Chavez government.  President Chavez counters that Mr. Zuloaga is not a victim of political persecution but a "bandit."
    This man likes red hats and hates a free press.
    The dispute centers on charges brought against Mr. Zuloaga by the Venezuelan government.  Voice of America reports that the government issued a warrant for Mr. Zuloaga's arrest based on fraud charges relating to an auto dealership that he owns.  The government also accused him of involvement in a $100-million scheme to assassinate the Venezuelan president.
    Mr. Zuloaga denies the charges and states that President Chavez ordered his arrest in order to stifle his pro-opposition news channel.  President Chavez has waged a long-running campaign against Globovision, including arresting Mr. Zuloaga in March 2010 for criticizing the government's crackdown on the media.  Mr. Zuloaga was released the day after his arrest, but was charged with "insulting the president" and "inciting collective panic by means of false information through the press," charges that could result in more than seven years in prison. 
    This man just likes red hats.
    The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights earlier this year expressed its concern about the use of the punitive power of the state to silence opponents in Venezuela.  The IACHR also condemned the March 2010 arrest of Mr. Zuloaga:
    The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression express their deep concern over Zuloaga's arrest, which evidences the lack of independence of the judiciary and the utilization of the criminal justice system to punish criticism, producing an intimidating effect that extends to all of society.
    A high profile case such as Mr. Zuloaga's has the potential to further erode relations between the U.S. and Venezuela.  Nevertheless, if Mr. Zuloaga meets the criteria for asylum-and the IAHCR report makes me think that he will-he should receive protection in our country.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist: 
  3. Obama’s Muslim Refugee Army Set to Invade America... Or Is It?

    If that series of tubes called the Internet is to be believed, President Obama is bringing 80,000 Muslim refugees into the United States to take our welfare and convert our children to Islam.  Never mind that most of the 80,000 refugees authorized to come here in FY 2011 are not from Muslim countries or that the refugee admissions numbers are consistent with those of President Bush's administration (and lower than during President Clinton and the first President Bush's terms).
    But unfortunately, the internet is not about facts.  From his website, The Last Crusade, Paul L. Williams, Ph.D.-and he never forgets to include those three little letters after his name-screams: "Get ready for the new Muslim invasion!"  Mr.-excuse me, Dr.-Williams informs us:
    President Barack Hussein Obama, in a determination letter to Congress, has announced that he will allow an additional 80,000 immigrants - - mostly from Islamic countries - - to resettle in the United States during fiscal year 2011.
    OK, part of this statement is true.  Just like the presidents before him, President Obama has sent a proposal to Congress about refugee admissions for the current fiscal year.  In that proposal, the President suggests a ceiling of 80,000 refugees who can be admitted into the United States.  The number of potential refugee admissions are divided by region as follows:



    East Asia


    Europe and Central Asia


    Latin America / Caribbean


    Near East / South Asia




    What's false-and offensive-is Dr. Williams's claim that the 80,000 refugees are "mostly from Islamic countries."  This claim is false because the President's designation does not refer to specific countries.  Rather, the designation refers to regions.  Only after needs are assessed will we know how many refugees each country will produce.  During FY 2009 (the last year I see data available), the largest groups of refugees have come from the following countries (I have listed only countries with over 1,000 refugees; for the entire list, see page 57 of the Proposed Refugee Admissions):


    Number of Refugees

    Percentage of Total Refugees










    Democratic Rep. of Congo






    Former Soviet Union















    These countries account for over 90% of refugee admissions for FY 2009 and most-about 60%-of these refugees are not from "Islamic" countries.  Further, even the refugees from majority Muslim countries are not necessarily Muslim.  Many refugees from Iraq and Eritrea, for example, are Christians.  So Dr. Williams's claim about a Muslim "invasion" is patently false. 
    What is so offensive about Dr. Williams's canard is his implication that something is wrong with Muslim refugees (and Muslims in general).  To Dr. Williams, we are at war with Muslims, and anything we do to help a Muslim only hurts "us."  He conveniently disregards our Muslim allies in the war on terror, or our own Muslim soldiers who risk their lives defending our country.  But hatred and bigotry rarely concerns itself with truth, and to Dr. Williams, the vulnerable Muslim refugees coming to our country are an invading army.  Better we should let them die in refugee camps.  And why not leave the non-Muslim refugees to die as well, for there might be Muslims among them.  To Dr. Williams, we live in an "us" vs. "them" world, where helping refugees-an act of compassion and humanity-is viewed as an act of treason.
    Unfortunately, Dr. William's lie has made its way around the internet as truth, and has been re-posted on many blogs.  People who hate Muslims and who hate President Obama seem ready to believe anything that fits their paradigm, regardless of the facts.  It's a shame that refugees-some of the most vulnerable people on earth-are exploited by hate mongers like Dr. Williams, Ph.D.  You'd think an educated person would know better.
    Originally published on the Asylumist:
  4. Russian Arms Merchant: U.S. Offered Me Asylum in Exchange for Information

    The wife of alleged Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout claims that U.S. officials offered political asylum to Mr. Bout and his family in exchange for information about international arms trafficking. 
    Viktor Bout flashes a V sign while detained in Thailand: Does it stand for Victim or Villian?
    According to Voice of America, Mr. Bout was extradited from Thailand to the United States after more than two-years of legal battles between Moscow and Washington.  Mr. Bout is alleged to be one of the world's most notorious arms smugglers and is accused of fueling conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and South America.  He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 after a sting operation in which undercover American officials claimed to be members of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
    Alla Bout says her husband's extradition was illegal because there was still a case against him pending in court in Thailand.  She says that transferring her husband to the United States before the end of legal procedures in Thailand breached legal and humanitarian norms, and demonstrates Bangkok's complete subservience to Washington.
    An open question is whether U.S. officials offered Mr. Bout and his family political asylum in exchange for information about arms trafficking.  Such a deal would not be unprecedented: During the Cold War, for example, a number of Soviet defectors were granted asylum in the United States, often in exchange for information about the U.S.S.R., or for propaganda purposes.  I do not know whether to believe Ms. Bout's claim that U.S. officials offered her husband asylum in exchange for information about arms trafficking.  If the claim is true, it would appear that the United States has now chosen a stick over a carrot as a means of extracting information from the alleged arms dealer.  
    On his website, Mr. Bout claims that the charges against him were fabricated by a "corrupt United Nations contractor... [who] became mad for vengeance when Victor [Bout] refused to continue paying him."  Perhaps, but there seems to be some pretty strong evidence against him, including evidence documented in a book: Merchants of Death by Douglas Farah.  In any case, Mr. Bout's guilt or innocence is now an issue for the United States justice system, where he faces charges such as conspiring to kill Americans and supporting a terrorist organization.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
  5. Can the Mandaeans Be Saved?

    Followers of the Mandaean religion have lived in Iraq for well over 1,000 years.  However, since the U.S. invasion in 2003, Mandaeans have faced all sorts of persecution from their fellow Iraqis, including murder, kidnapping, rape, confiscation of property and forced conversion.  Their numbers have dropped from about 60,000 in the 1990?s to less than 5,000 today.  The Mandaeans have fled to Kurdistan, Jordan, Syria, the United States, and other countries. 
    A Mandaean Baptism Ceremony.
    While the Iraqi Mandaeans are able to resettle in other countries, the concern is that they will be disbursed throughout the world and their religion will die out. 
    The end of the Mandaean religion would be a great loss.  From a New York Times article on the Mandaeans (re-posted on Red Ice Creations):
    The Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, cousins of the people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, a work that sheds invaluable light on the many ways in which Jesus was perceived in the early Christian period. The Mandeans have their own language (Mandaic, a form of Aramaic close to the dialect of the Babylonian Talmud), an impressive body of literature, and a treasury of cultural and religious traditions amassed over two millennia of living in the southern marshes of present-day Iraq and Iran.
    Practitioners of a religion at least as old as Christianity, the Mandeans have witnessed the rise of Islam; the Mongol invasion; the arrival of Europeans, who mistakenly identified them as "Christians of St. John," because of their veneration of John the Baptist; and, most recently, the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, who drained the marshes after the first gulf war, an ecological catastrophe equivalent to destroying the Everglades. They have withstood everything -- until now.
    The Mandaean religion is pacifistic, and followers are not allowed to carry weapons, even for self defense.  Until the 2003 war, most of the world's Mandaeans lived in Iraq.  Now the insular community has been divided into small groups and resettled as refugees.  Such groups are too small to create sustainable communities, and the fear is that the dispersion is the beginning of the end for the Mandaeans.
    In the U.S., one of the largest refugee populations of Mandaeans is in Boston, which is home to about 450 individuals.  Mandaean activists hope to resettle enough refugees there to create a sustainable community.  According to the Boston Globe, nations don't take in refugees from just a single ethnic or religious group, and the receiving countries face capacity issues.
    In this instance, the UN and the receiving countries should make a greater effort to resettle the Mandaeans in larger number in order to create sustainable communities.  If not, this ancient religion could vanish forever.
    Originally posted on the Asylumist:
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