- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by British police at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday morning.
- The US requested his extradition and charged him with conspiracy to hack classified US government computers, in a document naming US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
- He was taken to court and convicted of breaching bail conditions in the UK. Extradition proceedings related to the US charges are expected to follow.
- Assange avoided arrest for almost seven years while Ecuador granted him asylum and housed him in its London embassy.
- On Thursday, Ecuador revoked his asylum. The country said its patience with him “reached its limit” and alleged a litany of bad behaviour.
- After the court hearing Thursday, Assange’s lawyer said he had long warned he would be extradited over WikiLeaks. She said Assange’s comment is: “I told you so.”
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Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been charged with conspiracy to hack classified US government information after a dramatic arrest in London on Thursday morning.
The Department of Justice laid out charges against Assange linked to his activities with former US soldier Chelsea Manning, with whom he leaked a huge trove of state secrets in 2010.
US authorities issued a provisional extradition request for Assange on Thursday, hours after British police officers entered Ecuador’s embassy in London, where Assange had been sheltered for almost seven years.
The arrest took place after Ecuador revoked Assange’s political asylum, alleging a litany of bad behaviour during his long stay.
Assange was taken to court in London shortly after the arrest, and convicted of breaching bail conditions dating back to 2012. Further hearings and extradition proceedings are expected to follow.
In a press conference outside the courthouse, his lawyer Jennifer Robinson said Assange has long warned he would be extradited for the US over Wikileaks. She said his comment on the day’s events is: “I told you so.”
The Department of Justice on Thursday alleged that Assange “engaged in a conspiracy” with Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst, to hack into Department of Defence computers. He faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.
WikiLeaks was involved in publishing sensitive US military documents from Chelsea Manning in 2010 and Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The London Metropolitan Police entered Ecuador’s diplomatic base in West London on Thursday morning and took Assange into custody after 9 a.m. local time.
Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, said Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK told Assange just before the arrest that his asylum had been revoked.
Assange “barged past” police officers who tried to detain Assange at the embassy, and yelled “this is unlawful” while other officers were required to handcuff him, BuzzFeed reported, citing an unnamed US government lawyer.
Video footage later showed a heavily bearded Assange being forcibly removed from the embassy and placed into a police van.
He appeared at Westminster Magistrate’s Court a few hours later, where he was convicted of breaching bail conditions in 2012.
His case was referred to a higher court, which could sentence him to as long as 12 months in prison. Robinson said Assange will appear in court again in less than a month’s time.
— Barnaby Nerberka (@barnabynerberka) April 11, 2019
A litany of bad behaviour
There had been a warrant issued for Assange’s arrest in the UK since June 29, 2012, after he failed to appear in court to face charges of sexual misconduct in Sweden, which he denies. European countries operate a system which allows them to execute warrants on one another’s behalf.
Though Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation against him in 2017, he was also wanted for breaching his prior bail conditions in the UK.
Assange, an Australian national, had been able to avoid arrest because Ecuador granted him asylum in June 2012. He had been living in its embassy in west London since then.
Ecuador announced the removal of Assange’s asylum in a video posted on Twitter, in which the country’s president said the country’s patience had “reached its limit.”
— Comunicación Ecuador (@ComunicacionEc) April 11, 2019
“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behaviour of Mr Assange,” President Lenín Moreno said in the video.
He said Assange installed electronic equipment prohibited in the embassy, mistreated security guards, and accessed the embassy’s security files during his stay, which lasted six years and nine months.
The Ecuadorian embassy has also complained about Assange’s living habits in the past. It said he was unhygienic and that his skateboarding ruined their floors. Last year it also issued a nine-page memo telling him to clean up after his cat.
The DOJ could bring Espionage Act charges against Assange
Over the past year, prosecutors are said to have discussed a variety of charges they could bring against Assange, and are reportedly optimistic that they could get Assange into a US court.
The US push came as Assange’s relationship with Ecuador was in decline.
The Department of Justice has been investigating Assange since 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal. The exact charges prosecutors want to bring against him are unclear, they may involve the Espionage Act.
At the courthouse press conference, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks said the US deliberately picked a lesser charge in the hope of getting Assange to the US, where it can pursue tougher punishments.
Kristinn Hrafnsson told reporters: “It is quite obvious the US authorities have picked just one element of what they have been working on for a long time, including the Espionage Act.”
“There is no assurance there would not be additional charges when he is on US soil, and I think and I believe that this was an angle in the approach to increase the likelihood of him being extradited. That is obvious.”
Assange and WikiLeaks are at the center of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
In an indictment charging 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Democratic National Committee and disseminating stolen emails, Mueller’s office mentioned WikiLeaks – though not by name – as the Russians’ conduit to release hacked documents via the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0, who is believed to be a front for Russian military intelligence.
WikiLeaks touts itself as an independent organisation, but US intelligence believes the group to be a propaganda tool for the Kremlin. While still serving as CIA director, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo characterised WikiLeaks as a “nonstate hostile intelligence service.”
The Journal reported that prosecutors were weighing whether to publicly charge Assange, as they did with the Russian nationals who have been indicted as part of the Russia investigation, to force the Ecuador Embassy to turn him over to the US.
WikiLeaks said last week that a “high level source within the Ecuadorian state” had said Assange would be expelled within “hours to days,” and that Ecuador had already agreed to let the UK arrest Assange. A senior official in Ecuador denied the claim at the time.
Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower,tweeted that the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest was a “dark moment for press freedom.”
The former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson, who is a high-profile supporter and confidante of Assange, tweeted that she was “in shock,” and she slammed Ecuador and Britain for facilitating his arrest.
And the USA ?
This toxic coward of a President
He needs to rally his base? –
You are selfish and cruel.
You have taken the entire world backwards.
You are devils and liars and thieves.
And you will ROTT
WE WILL RISE ✊
— Pamela Anderson (@pamfoundation) April 11, 2019
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