On Thursday, April 11, Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange was arrested in London at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he’d taken refuge. He was arrested by the Metropolitan Police for failing to appear in court for a US extradition request.
Video news agency Ruptly shot a clip of a 47-year-old bearded Assange being dragged into a police van.
Why did Ecuador give him up?
In a statement, President of Ecuador Lenín Moreno explained why he decided to withdraw Assange’s asylum.
“Today, I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behaviour of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allies organization, against Ecuador, and especially, the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” said Moreno.
Moreno said Assange violated new rules expected by all guests at the embassy. However, Assange had previously claimed that his human rights were being restricted.
The Ecuadorian President also said Assange mistreated guards, installed prohibited electronic equipment, blocked security cameras, and accessed the embassy’s security files without permission. Assange also allegedly refused to use the embassy’s internet connection and chose to use data on his mobile phone instead.
Moreno added that Assange threatened the Ecuadorian government. “He particularly violated the norm of not intervening in the internal affairs of other states,” he said.
Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted that Assange was expelled from the embassy for exposing Moreno’s corruption by leaking the INA Papers in February.
The INA Papers allegedly reveal the operations of INA Investment Corp., an offshore tax haven that Moreno’s brother set up. Moreno is currently under investigation; he could be impeached.
Moreno said the UK government confirmed in writing that it wouldn’t extradite Assange to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.
The US Attorney’s Office said Assange is being extradited to the US for “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified US government computer”.
Wanted since 2012
Assange is an Australian computer programmer who founded Wikileaks in 2006; it is an online platform dedicated to whistle-blowing and leaking confidential information that exposes people in power.
For example, in 2010, Wikileaks published a video of US airstrike in Iraq that killed civilians.
The US is indicting him for “conspiring” with Chelsea Manning, 31, a former intelligence official in the US Army; she had leaked classified government and military documents in 2010.
Manning was convicted under the Espionage Act in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in jail. However, former US president Barack Obama commuted her sentence after she served seven years.
She was jailed again on March 8 after refusing to answer before a grand jury investigating Wikileaks.
“Imprisoning me for my refusal to answer questions only subjects me to additional punishment for my repeatedly stated ethical objections to the grand jury system,” said Manning. She added that grand juries allow the US government to quash dissent in secrecy.
The US Attorney’s indictment stated Assange was being prosecuted for working with Manning, not for the Wikileak email dump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Assange took asylum in the embassy after being accused of rape and was in danger of being extradited to Sweden. He has been living at the embassy since 2012.
Assange is a polarising figure. While some appreciate his goal of more transparency, others criticise him for putting government officials at risk by exposing confidential information.
To extradite or not?
Assange’s attorneys said it was “bitterly disappointing” that Ecuador would allow Assange to be arrested in its embassy.
“First and foremost, we hope that the UK will now give Mr. Assange access to proper health care, which he has been denied for seven years. Once his healthcare needs have been addressed, the UK courts will need to resolve what appears to be an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal chargers for publishing truthful information,” said Assange’s US attorney Barry J Pollack.
UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he was also concerned about Assange’s health, ordering the police to conduct a medical assessment.
Assange is currently facing a year in jail for allegedly breaking bail conditions set in the 2012 sexual assault case.
Assange’s lawyers argued that he did not surrender for bail then because he was worried about an unfair judicial proceeding.
However, the judge disagreed and ordered Assange to remain in custody until May 2, the date of his extradition hearing. If extradited under the US Attorney’s current charges, he faces up to five years in an American prison, as well.
Javid said the UK law asks for full extradition papers to be submitted to the judge within 65 days of arrest. Javid also needs to approve this extradition request before it goes to court.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer for Qrius.