Ecuador denies it will imminently expel Assange from embassy

Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gather outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on April 5, 2019, following rumours that Assange was about to be expelled. (AFP)
Updated 07 April 2019

Ecuador denies it will imminently expel Assange from embassy

  • Ecuador last year established new rules for Assange’s behavior while in the embassy, which required him to pay his medical bills and clean up after his pet cat
  • Assange says Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and is putting pressure on him by isolating him from visitors and spying on him

QUITO: Ecuador’s government said late on Friday that it rejected reports that it would imminently expel Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from its London embassy, where he has lived in asylum for nearly seven years.
Assange was “prepared” for expulsion from the building, a British friend of his said on Tuesday, after Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said he had “repeatedly violated” the terms of his asylum.
Moreno accused Assange of harming Ecuador’s relations with other countries by intervening in their politics and said he did not have the right to “hack private accounts or phones.” WikiLeaks said Moreno’s remarks were in retribution for WikiLeaks having reported on corruption accusations against Moreno, who denies wrongdoing.
In a statement, Ecuador’s foreign ministry denied it had reached an agreement with the British government to jail Assange if he left the embassy.
Ecuador “categorically rejects the fake news that have circulated recently on social networks, many spread by an organization linked to Mr.Julian Assange, about an imminent termination of the diplomatic aslyum granted to him since 2012,” it said.
The ministry said it reserved the right to terminate asylum when it considered it justified.
“By releasing information that distorts the truth, (Assange) and his associates express once again their ingratitude and disrespect to Ecuador,” it said.
Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation.
That probe was later dropped, but Assange fears he could be extradited to face charges in the United States, where federal prosecutors are investigating WikiLeaks.
Ecuador last year established new rules for Assange’s behavior while in the embassy, which required him to pay his medical bills and clean up after his pet cat. He challenged the rules in local and international tribunals, arguing they violated his human rights. Both courts ruled against him.
Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is linked to the Organization of American States, rejected Assange’s request that Ecuador ease the conditions it has imposed on his residence in the London embassy.
Assange says Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and is putting pressure on him by isolating him from visitors and spying on him. Ecuador has said its treatment of Assange was in line with international law, but that his situation “cannot be extended indefinitely.”


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 49 min 10 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.