The United Kingdom police on Thursday said they have arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Reuters reported.
Assange had been living in the Embassy since June 2012, after he sought asylum to avoid being extradited to Sweden in connection with sexual assault allegations against him that were later dropped. He was arrested soon after Ecuador withdrew his asylum citing “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols”, according to the South American country’s president, Lenín Moreno.
The Metropolitan Police Service said that Assange was arrested on a 2012 warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court after he allegedly skipped bail to seek refuge from Ecuador. Assange had been arrested in London in connection with an extradition warrant from Sweden in the the sexual assault case.
However, it was later confirmed in court that Assange was arrested on two warrants, the second by the the US Justice Department. The US has sought his extradition on a “federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer”, the Justice Department said in a statement.
The charge is in connection with WikiLeaks’s 2010 release of a tranche of military and diplomatic documents, including those pertaining to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange could face up to five years in jail on this charge.
The indictment accuses Assange of conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to help her crack a password on the US Department of Defense computers to access classified documents.
In March, Manning was reimprisoned after a judge held her in contempt for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. She had been released from prison in May 2017 in the 2010 leaks case after former US President Barack Obama commuted the rest of her 35-year sentence towards the end of his term in office.
Assange was produced in the Westminster Magistrates Court later on Thursday and pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of failing to surrender before UK courts in June 2012, tweeted BBC reporter Daniel Sandford, who was covering the court proceedings. The court held him guilty on this charge and he will be sent to the Crown Court for sentencing.
The hearing in the extradition case is on May 2, Sandford said.
The lawyer of the woman who accused Assange of rape in 2010 on Thursday said that they will ask Swedish prosecutors to reopen the investigation that was closed in 2017. “We will do everything we can to get the prosecutors to reopen the Swedish investigation so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and be prosecuted for rape,” lawyer Elisabeth Massi Fritz said. “As long as the statute of limitations has not expired my client has hope for restitution.”
WikiLeaks alleged on Twitter that Ecuador had terminated his asylum “illegally in violation of international law”. However, Ecuador said that it was their “sovereign right’’ to terminate the asylum, said AFP.
Meanwhile, American whistleblower Edward Snowden said Assange’s arrest is a dark moment for press freedom. “Images of Ecuador’s ambassador inviting the United Kingdom’s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of – like it or not – award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books,” Snowden tweeted.
Ecuador had granted asylum to Assange on his contention that his extradition to Sweden could pave the way to him being sent back to the US and face a possible death sentence. Assange is wanted in the US in connection with leaks of a thousands documents over the years. In 2010, the Australian-born Assange’s WikiLeaks had released classified documents about the US Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other confidential cables. The leaked documents revealed alleged torture of detainees countries and civilian casualties in the Iraq war, among other incriminating allegations against US authorities.
During the 2016 US presidential elections, WikiLeaks had released several emails of the Democratic National Campaign, that are believed to have hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects in the elections that were eventually won by Donald Trump. US authorities had alleged Russian involvement in the email leak, which Assange and his company have denied.
In November 2018, prosecutors in the United States had accidentally revealed that they had charged Assange for publishing classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. A sealed indictment against him reportedly made its way into court filings in an unrelated case. The charges were not disclosed until earlier today.