WikLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, ending his seven-year asylum tenure there.
He appeared on Thursday afternoon at Westminster Magistrates Court, where he was found guilty of skipping bail, and will be sentenced at a later date.
Assange is wanted in the US over an investigation into WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents concerning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) said the charge related specifically over conspiracy to commit computer intrusion “by cracking a password” with US whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who served 7 years in prison for the huge data leak. Chelsea was sent back to prison last month after refusing to testify against WikiLeaks.
Assange’s conviction for breaching bail conditions in the UK dates back to 2012 – he was granted it during a case that would see him extradited to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault. To avoid extradition, Assange took up asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had been until today.
Swedish prosecutors eventually dropped the rape charge in 2017, however, the alleged victim indicated on Thursday a wish to reopen the case, following Assange’s arrest.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said the decision to remove Assange’s asylum was made over “repeated violations” to international conventions and “daily life protocols.” Moreno described Assange’s behaviour as “discourteous and aggressive,” claiming the 47-year-old had made “hostile and threatening declarations” against his country.
The Ecuadorian leader specifically cited WikiLeaks’ release of a batch of Vatican documents earlier this year, before listing a number of activities at the embassy in London that he did not agree with. Assange had installed electronic distortion equipment, blocked security cameras, accessed security files “without permission”, and had “confronted and mistreated” embassy staff, he alleged.
Moreno, however, requested the UK do not extradite Assange to a country where he could face the death penalty, such as the US.
Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum in 2012, described his successor as a “great traitor” who had committed a “crime that humanity will never forget.” It is “one of the most atrocious acts of servility, vileness and revenge,” he said. “History will be implacable with those guilty of something so atrocious.”
On the day of Assange’s arrest, WikiLeaks pleaded for his protection, tweeting that “Powerful actors, including CIA, are engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimize and imprison him.”