Is France really about to grant political asylum to Julian Assange?

A rash of headlines in the French press have focused on the possibility of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being given asylum in France - so what's really going on?

Is France really about to grant political asylum to Julian Assange?
Julian Assange is currently in the UK but wants to be granted asylum in France. Photo: AFP

He probably needs no introduction, but Julian Assange is the Australian founder of the WikiLeaks whistleblower site that has been behind some of the biggest news stories of the last decade.

He is now in prison in the UK, facing extradition to the USA, after spending seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition proceedings to both the USA and Sweden, where he was the subject of a rape allegation.

He is wanted by Washington over the 2010 release of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents on the Iraq and Afghan wars, revealing civilian deaths as well as torture and clandestine military operations.

Julian Assange in London before his time in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Photo: AFP

So what's all this got to do with France?

He would like to get political asylum here. He says he is encouraged by France's record on whistleblowers and he also apparently has a French wife and child.

Why is he in the news today?

A French rights group which is supporting him has written to justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti calling on him to give Assange asylum. In a stroke of good luck for the Australian, Dupond-Moretti was actually Assange's lawyer for a while before he was appointed justice minister in July.

Back when he was representing Assange, Dupond-Moretti called on president Emmanuel Macron to grant him asylum, saying: “The 175 years of prison that he is promised in the United States is an unworthy and unbearable sentence that is contrary to the idea that we can all have of human rights.”

Now the group that is supporting Assange, Robin des Lois (Legal Robin, a play on Robin des Bois or Robin Hood) says: “We are asking for an appointment with Eric Dupond-Moretti to ask him to relaunch the asylum request to President Emmanuel Macron, a request that he made loud and clear in February when he became Julian Assange's lawyer.”

France's new justice minister Eric Dupond-Moretti was previously Julian Assange's lawyer. Photo: AFP

So does this mean he's as good as in?

No, there are several stumbling blocks.

The first is around the formal process of applying for asylum.

Back in 2015 Assange wrote an open letter in Le Monde, asking to be granted asylum. But as anyone who has ever tried to do admin tasks in France will know, open letters in newspapers are not the same as following the correct bureaucratic process (and are an option not available to the many asylum seekers in France who have fled conflict zones and who often find themselves living in grim shanty towns while they struggle to get their applications processed).

The then-president François Hollande turned him down flat, with a statement noting that “a closer examination shows that when taking account of the legal elements and the situation of Mr Assange, France cannot act on his request. The situation of Mr Assange presents no immediate danger. He is also the subject of a European arrest warrant.”

The second is that, whatever Dupond-Moretti might feel about his former client, asylum applications are not decided by the justice minister.

“The proposal to meet Robin des Lois will be studied and a response will be made to them accordingly,” said a spokesman for the ministry. However, she added, “the Keeper of the Seals cannot interfere in asylum procedures which are the responsibility of an independent body, Ofpra [the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons.]”

What happens next?

A hearing will take place in London on September 7th to examine an extradition request by the US Justice Department, which seeks to put Assange on trial for leaking the documents. Assange is in jail in the UK, having previously been denied bail because he was judged to be a flight risk. He risks a jail sentence of 175 years in the USA if convicted.

Macron has so far not commented on the request to come to France.

Member comments

  1. Please DO NOT offer Asylum to this Criminal ! France is a Great Country but please steer clear of this man……..

  2. This man put his life and family on the line to expose the criminal acts of the USA
    (which has committed more war crimes than any other country in the world). I have lived there for over 30 years.Perhaps one should question their knowledge of the matter while looking at their value of integrity and courage and notice their belief in the media more than the justice that should be awarded to Julian Assange. Set this man free.

  3. I truly hope France will grant Assange asylum. We need whistle-blowers like him to expose the crap that’s going on. Assange put his life on the line, not sure if I would have.

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Pope arrives in Marseille for trip shadowed by migrant crisis

Pope Francis arrived in Marseille on Friday for a two-day visit focused on the Mediterranean and migration, bringing to France a message of tolerance amid bitter debate over how Europe manages asylum seekers.

Pope arrives in Marseille for trip shadowed by migrant crisis

Marseille was decked out in the yellow and white colours of the Vatican for the first visit by a pope to France’s second-largest city in 500 years, where 100,000 people are expected to turn out to see the pontiff in his “popemobile” on Saturday.

The 86-year-old is visiting to take part in a meeting of Mediterranean-area Catholic bishops and young people — but his trip comes at a politically sensitive time.

The pontiff disembarked at Marseille airport from his plane away from the view of cameras. He was then wheeled in a wheelchair towards Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who was waiting on the airport tarmac to greet him, an AFP correspondent said.

He then stood up from his wheelchair to acknowledge the welcome of a military band.

A surge in migrant boats arriving from North Africa on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa last week trigged outrage in Italy and a heated debate across Europe over how to share responsibility for the numbers.

Marseille is a historic gateway for immigrants and also home to some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Europe, many of which are plagued by drug trafficking.

The desperate conditions that cause many people to leave their homes for a new life, and the risks they take to do so, have been a key theme during Francis’s decade as head of the Catholic Church.

Speaking at the Vatican on Sunday, he noted that migration “represents a challenge that is not easy… but which must be faced together”.

He emphasised the need for “fraternity, putting human dignity and real people, especially those most in need, in first place”.

Ahead of what will be his 44th overseas trip, Francis acknowledged this month that papal voyages were not as easy as they used to be.

He underwent hernia surgery in June, less than two years after having colon surgery, and routinely uses a wheelchair because of a troublesome knee.

Meeting pilgrims

Despite the decline in France of Catholicism, the once dominant faith, the pope’s visit has sparked huge enthusiasm, with almost 60,000 people expected at a mass on Saturday afternoon.

“Habemus papam” headlined regional newspaper La Provence, using the famous Latin phrase meaning “We have a pope!” used  on the election of a pontiff.

For Joseph Achji, a 25-year-old Syrian Christian originally from Aleppo, the pope’s visit is a “chance of a lifetime”.

He will head to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, a symbolic monument overlooking the city, for a prayer with local clergy on Friday afternoon.

That will be followed by a moment of meditation with representatives of other religions at a memorial to sailors and migrants lost at sea.

The United Nations estimates that more than 28,000 migrants who have tried to cross the Mediterranean since 2014 have gone missing.

After 8,500 migrants landed on Lampedusa in three days earlier this month, the European Union promised more help for Rome.

But France, amid wrangling over a draft law governing migrant arrivals there, said it would not accept anyone from the island.

“We are expecting very strong words” from the pope, said Francois Thomas, head of Marseille-based SOS Mediterranee, which operates a migrant rescue boat in the sea.

“It is our humanity that is sinking if Europe does not do something.”

Mass with Macron

On Saturday morning, Francis will take part in the closing session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” event.

As well as migration, it will cover issues such as economic inequality and climate change — also themes close to the pope’s heart.

On Saturday afternoon, Francis will lead a mass at the Velodrome stadium, with French President Emmanuel Macron among those due to attend.

Macron’s attendance has sparked controversy among left-wing politicians in the officially secular country.

Some right-wing politicians have criticised the pope’s stance on migrants — but Marseille mayor Benoit Payan said the pontiff “has a universal message… of peace”.

Francky Domingo, who runs a migrant association in Marseille, said he hoped the visit would “give back a little hope” and “ease tensions at the political level”.

“Marseille is a cosmopolitan city, multicultural, multi-faith,” he told AFP, but faces “enormous difficulties”.