QUITO – Frei Betto, a Brazilian monk and intellectual hailed as a founder of Liberation Theology, said on Friday that he hopes the winner of Ecuador’s April 2 presidential runoff will continue to shelter WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Some 12.8 million Ecuadorians are eligible to vote in the contest pitting center-left former Vice President Lenin Moreno against conservative financier Guillermo Lasso.
Moreno is supported by incumbent President Rafael Correa, who granted political asylum to Assange in 2012 after he came to Ecuador’s UK embassy seeking refuge.
“I hope that whatever government Ecuador has continues ensuring the right of Julian Assange to asylum,” Frei Betto told a press conference in Quito.
“It’s a scandal that this man is being persecuted for speaking the truth,” the Brazilian said of the WikiLeaks founder, while declining to comment on Ecuador’s presidential race.
Assange has been stuck at the embassy in London for nearly five years, as the British government refuses to allow him safe passage to the airport to board a plane for Ecuador.
The Australian citizen sought refuge at the Ecuadorian mission in June 2012 after losing a long battle in the British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about sexual misconduct allegations dating back to 2010.
Assange, who denies the accusations, has said that once he is in Swedish custody, the United States will pressure Stockholm into handing him over for prosecution based on WikiLeaks’ publication of classified documents.
Lasso has said that if elected, he would review the grant of asylum to Assange.
Asked whether he thinks the US government has any preference in the Ecuadorian election, Frei Betto said he would not venture to guess.
“As far as the elections – what’s going to happen and what the United States thinks – I can’t divine what goes on in the head of the government of (US President Donald) Trump, because he’s crazy,” the friar said. “Nero set fire to Rome, Hitler (did the same) in Europe, and Trump wants to spread fire in the world.”