Letters: Drama at the Ecuadorian embassy


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The Independent Online

Your leading article (20 August) on the position of Julian Assange is rather naive. Who can say, if he is extradited to Sweden, what covert pressure might be exerted by the United States to pass him over?

The Scandinavian countries are among the best governed in the world, but if Wikileaks' activities have revealed one important thing, it is that international affairs are not always conducted in accordance with formalities.

One wonders, moreover, just how safe is Mr Assange holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The case of Osama bin Laden has shown that the United States government has no qualms about summarily executing its opponents, even when they are resident in another sovereign state. The Metropolitan Police should see it as much their duty to protect him as to arrest him.

Mike Timms

Iver, Buckinghamshire

For a self-styled freedom-of-speech martyr, Assange's choice of bedfellows says it all: an Ecuadorian president with one of the highest levels of press censorship in South America and a Spanish magistrate disbarred for abuse of power through illegal covert surveillance. Assange's supporters, including nations with less than reputable human rights track-records, they are presumably happy to have their government terminals hacked into, state secrets leaked and national security breached, diplomatic relations jeopardised and the carefully protected identities and lives of operatives on the ground put at risk.

Theatrics aside, the WikiLeaks' founder remains a mere fugitive on the run bent of self-preservation. If he was remotely interested in transparency and the rule of law, Assange would surely be keen to ensure the victims of his alleged sexual assaults in Sweden have their day in court.

Dr Christina Julios

London SE1

Instead of seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy the enigmatic Julian Assange should be allowed to await his fate on the Ecuadorian-owned Galapagos Islands. Here he could peruse Darwin's Origin of Species in the presence of other odd creatures like the blue-footed booby and the giant tortoise; with of course his copy of the Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare and maybe George Galloway as a like-minded castaway.

Stan Labovitch


Did Julian Assange choose Ecuador because its embassy has an elegant balcony?

Keith Tizzard

Ottery St Mary, Devon

Right to die: only the patient can decide

In the ongoing debate about euthanasia, Julian Baggini (18 August) suggests that by sacrificing the right of a few individuals to die with dignity the law actually protects society as a whole. Similar arguments have been used by those who try to justify torture.

Tony Nicklinson can't walk, can't talk, can't move, can't communicate with anyone but his wife (by blinking). His existence is not "life" but hell on earth.

Is it so difficult to understand? What sort of "social contract" is it for society to ignore Mr Nicklinson's terrible suffering?

Those who claim that they know better than Mr Nicklinson what is good for him show a profound lack of humanity as well as supreme arrogance. The right of assisted suicide – with appropriate safeguards – would bring a huge relief to people like Mr Nicklinson.

In the end, many may not even exercise their right because to know that this option is available to them would be enough to make their life less frightening.

Philippe Bareille

Stevenage, Hertfordshire

I, and most people I know, don't want to continue living once we have serious dementia. It is undignified, a heart-rending burden on loved ones, and a waste of scarce resources which would be better spent on schools and the National Health Service.

It is best for all, and a solution to the widely touted crises in old age care, that we be allowed the wherewithal for a safe and pain-free suicide.

If the Government has not courage enough for this, then it could at least institute a protocol whereby when someone chooses to stop eating and drinking their doctors are allowed to administer sufficient pain relief and sedative that the patient does not suffer hunger and thirst pangs. That way the patient would die pain-free within a week or so, which is not a bad way to go.

Why should the country be held to ransom, and terrible suffering and sadness imposed, by an irrational minority who oppose such measures, thereby denying us our rights?

Dan Dennis

Philosophy Tutor, Department of Continuing Education

University of Oxford

Andrew Belsey (letter, 20 August) says that people like Tony Nicklinson are claiming a "right to be killed" and rejects it on the basis that such a right would cast a co-relative duty on someone to kill them.

It is more helpful to such people's cause to suggest that they be at liberty to find someone prepared to help them fulfil their wishes. Such an approach would leave us with the not-insurmountable task of policing such an arrangement in order to pre-empt abuse.

Professor Chris Barton

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Why shouldn't Tony Nicklinson's right to die entail an obligation to kill him (Andrew Belsey, letter 20 August)?

Much of the point of present campaigning for a change in the law is to encourage people to extend the range of the obligations they feel to include mercy-killing those who cannot but desperately want to kill themselves.

Meanwhile, Peter Cave's idea for a machine to enable suicide by eye-blink (letter, same day) suggests a practical way of avoiding having to decide whether killing others should ever be a duty. Let's hope it's not too long in the devising.

Richard Bryden


Andrew Belsey says rights and obligations are "reciprocal"; since there can be no obligation to kill, there is no right to choose assisted suicide.

Is this sound? Mr Belsey, I believe, has a right to have consensual sex with (for example) Ms Kiera Knightley – who thus, according to Belsey, has a reciprocal obligation to consent to his advances. I suspect she may disagree.

Andrew Clifton

Edgware, Middlesex

Back to the usual boring sports

I've never counted myself a sports fan, and instantly passed the Independent sports pages to my husband when they arrived. However for 17 days, during the Olympics, there was a daily tussle to be first to read the sports news. Your coverage of the multitude of sports – and the near-equal coverage you gave to women's sport – made a convert of me.

However, my affair with sport seems to have been short-lived. Now I open the sports pages to find they have reverted to the male-dominated, football-cricket-racing-rugby-dominated bores they always were. You've lost me again. I'm sure I'm not the only woman (or man for that matter) that feels this way.

Surely the many sports covered at the Olympics don't just close down for another four years? Surely there must be continuing news stories to cover about handball, rowing, hockey, sailing and all the other fascinating sports that so captivated me for two weeks? Surely sportswomen don't just stop the ironing and cooking for a couple of weeks to take part, and then go back to the housework? All the talk, not least in your own paper, of the wonderful role-models these successful women make for our teenage girls will certainly come to nothing if these women, and their sports, become invisible again.

Why then does it seem that way when I look for news of their activities now? Your journalists obviously have the knowledge and skill to cover these sports – please get them to use them.

Sue Walker

Ashfield, Stirlingshire

We make big business pay up

Sir Andrew Park's report for the National Audit Office found that HMRC's largest tax settlements with big business were good ones for the UK. John Kampfner ("What the Italians can teach us about tax avoidance", 20 August) prefers to perpetuate now discredited myths about "sordid deals'.

In the year ended 31 March 2012, HMRC secured £6.9bn additional tax from big business through both tax settlements and litigation, ensuring that these businesses contribute around 60 per cent of the UK's total tax take.

In addition, the UK's tax co-operation agreement with Switzerland delivers withholding tax to the UK on future liabilities as well as enhanced exchange of information, and not, as you suggest, purely a one-off levy for the past. This is all money that would otherwise have gone unpaid to the UK exchequer.

Jim Harra

Director General, Business Tax

HMRC, London SW1

Best and worst of the NHS

Am I alone in being utterly discombobulated at the argument being put forward that, on the one hand, the only way to save the dismal and dire NHS is for it to undergo a complete, top-down reorganisation, and on the other that it is so good it is going to be exported as a top-quality brand around the world (report, 21 August)?

There seems to be a complete lack of intellectual rigour at the heart of government.

Simon G Gosden

Rayleigh, Essex

India's holy rodents

I do hope Andrew Buncombe, having met some of the 44 rat killers in Mumbai, who battle against an estimated 88 million rats (20 August), pops over to the Karni Mata temple in Deshnoke, Rajastan.

He will be surprised to find a Hindu temple, constructed by Maharaja Ganga Singh as a tribute to the rat goddess, Karni Mata, where about 20,000 rats roam freely. They are venerated here. It is seen as being particularly auspicious if you eat food or drink water that has been first sampled by these rats.

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Russian honour

In discussing the Pussy Riot trial, Peter Giles (letter, 20 August) says the Russians' history may have been tragic but has always been honourable. It's certainly been tragic for other people, but I can hardly agree with "honourable". In two words: "Litvinenko" and "Syria".

Graham Kimbell

West Lydford, Somerset

It's criminal

I'm prepared to accept that to "medal" has been used as a transitive verb since 1822 (letter, 21 August) but there is no excuse for the verb "crime". I noticed, in an email written by a PC in Wolverhampton, that an incident under investigation had been "crimed as racially aggravated criminal damage".

Barry Butler


Funny turns

You report on the top ten jokes on the Edinburgh Fringe (21 August). For me the funniest joke of all time is Bob Monkhouse's: "They all laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. They're not laughing now."

Sara Neill

Tunbridge Wells, Kent