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August 23, 2012

Before Assange: Famous Cases of People Seeking Asylum in Embassies

By Spear's

Assange is not the only high-profile case of individuals seeking shelter in embassies around the world, and we’ve wracked our brains (and possibly trawled through google) to bring you a few more.

Love him or hate him, all eyes are on the painfully pale visage of Julian Assange, who is facing extradition to Sweden over sexual assault charges, and has been given asylum by the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He’s not the only high-profile case of individuals seeking shelter in embassies around the world, however, and we’ve racked our brains (and possibly trawled through google) to bring you a few more.

1. Probably the longest period of political asylum in an embassy is 15 years (according to the BBC). The Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindzenty, a supporter of Church freedom and opponent of communism, spent 15 years at the US embassy in Budapest, between 1956 and 1971.

2. Several leading politicians have sought asylum in embassies: Manuel Noriega, former leader of Panama, sheltered in the Vatican embassy in Panama City following the US invasion in 1989. He was driven out of his shelter by the US’s playing of loud rock music. More recently, Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe opposition leader, sheltered in the Dutch embassy in Harare in June 2008.

Julian Assange is not the only high-profile figure to have sought political asylum in an embassy

3. There are several examples this year alone of individuals seeking asylum in US embassies around the world. In Cairo in early 2012, the US embassy sheltered American NGO workers who feared arrest following a crack-down on pro-democracy groups. The US embassy in Beijing sheltered two prominent dissidents this year, much to the Chinese authorities’ ire. The more high profile case was that of blind dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who spent a week at the American embassy in Beijing before departing with his family to the US.

4. Swiss businessman Max Goeldi spent many months living at the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, Libya. The saga began when Gaddafi’s son, Hannibal Gaddafi, was arrested in Switzerland for assaulting two of his servants. Gaddafi retaliated by banning all Swiss imports (chocolate was missed the most), expelling Swiss diplomats, and arresting two Swiss businessmen, allegedly for visa irregularities. While Hamdani was acquitted shortly afterwards, Goeldi stayed trapped in the Swiss embassy from 2008 to 2010, serving a four month jail sentence before being released in June 2010. When the Swiss closed their embassy following Goeldi’s departure, the leaving party was wild. Assange may have achieved more press coverage for his plight, but on this he will not be able to compete.
Read more by Sophie McBain

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