Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Julian Assange, a prominent whistleblower and the founder of the WikiLeaks website, was arrested on Thursday at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had been living since 2012.
Assange gained fame after WikiLeaks published a large number of leaked files, including some referring to US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and living conditions in the Guantanamo detention camp.
In the Ecuadorian diplomatic mission, Assange sought to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced a probe over allegations of sexual offenses. Assange denied those accusations and called them politically motivated. While the Swedish police dropped the investigation in 2017, Assange was still wary of being extradited to the United States.
The UK police said they had arrested Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy and taken him to a central London police station.
"Julian Assange, 47, (03.07.71) has today, Thursday 11 April, been arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) at the Embassy of Ecuador, Hans Crescent, SW1 on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court … He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as is possible," the police said in a statement.
A bit later, Assange’s arrest was confirmed by Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, who said that the country had withdrawn asylum status from the whistleblower over what he described as violations of international conventions and daily-life protocols.
"In a sovereign decision Ecuador withdrew the asylum status to Julian Assange after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols," Moreno wrote on Twitter.
The Ecuadorian president said that the United Kingdom had pledged not to extradite Assange to any country where he might face torture or death penalty.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked Moreno for cooperation with the United Kingdom on Assange’s case.
"Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years. Thank you Ecuador and President @Lenin Moreno for your cooperation with @foreignoffice to ensure Assange faces justice," Hunt wrote on Twitter.
WikiLeaks also confirmed Assange’s arrest pointing out that Ecuador had illegally terminated his political asylum.
The UK police confirmed that the WikiLeaks founder had been arrested in relation to an extradition warrant on behalf of the US authorities.
"Julian Assange, 47, (03.07.71) has today, Thursday 11 April, been further arrested on behalf of the United States authorities, at 10:53hrs after his arrival at a central London police station. This is an extradition warrant under Section 73 of the Extradition Act. He will appear in custody at Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as possible," the UK police noted.
The US Department of Justice pointed out that Assange had been charged with conspiracy related to 2010 release of stolen document provided by former US army soldier Chelsea Manning.
"Julian P. Assange, 47, the founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested today in the United Kingdom pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty, in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer," the department said, adding that he faces up to five years in prison.
A UK court ruled on Thursday that the United States must submit all documents on extradition of Assange by June 12.
According to the CNN broadcaster, Assange could face additional charges from US prosecutors after his arrest in London on Washington’s extradition request.
The arrest of Assange was condemned by a number of states and non-governmental organizations.
"The hand of 'democracy' is squeezing the throat of freedom," Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page, commenting on his arrest.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed a hope that the rights of Assange would be respected after his arrest.
Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy described the arrest of Assange as "a blow to media freedom."
The head of the left-wing Spanish party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, called for release of the whistleblower.
"Exploitation, injustice and privileges for the strong are possible only because they are based on lies. Therefore, if authorities — in Spain and in the world — are afraid of anything, then this is true. Freedom for Julian Assange," Iglesias wrote on Twitter.
Leader of the leftist party France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) and former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon called on the French authorities to grant asylum to Assange after Ecuador had terminated his status of political refugee.
"The founder of the WikiLeaks website is really being persecuted by the US government for exposing the mass espionage that was conducted against other governments of the world, including [the US] allies. Julian Assange acted in the name of freedom and independence of France, revealing aggressive actions against us. It should be honor for our country to grant him political asylum at a time when his freedom is under threat," Melenchon said in a statement.
Assange’s arrest was strongly condemned by Bolivian President Evo Morales and called for his release.
"We strongly condemn the detention of #JulianAssange and the violation of freedom of speech. Our solidarity is with this brother who is persecuted by the US government for bringing to light its human rights violations, murders of civilians and diplomatic espionage #FreeJulian," Morales wrote on Twitter.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Sputnik news agency and RT broadcaster, said that "global hypocrisy won" commenting on the arrest of Assange.
"Assange understood that global hypocrisy would find a reason to hobble or even kill him, so he found asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy. He should have gone to ours. He should have. He would be living like [Edward] Snowden now — he would make trips to Sochi, talk to anyone he wanted to. I would teach him how to boil crustaceans. But he hadn't asked for advice. And then it was impossible to get him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy — they would have arrested him right away. Like they did today," Simonyan said.
She also pointed that the Ruptly video agency, which is a project of the RT broadcaster, was the only media outlet that filmed the moment of the WikiLeaks founder's arrest.
"The fact that only we filmed Assange's arrest today is the most obvious verdict to the disgraceful state of the global media. While everyone has been waiting for his expulsion for days, they are now forced to show our shots," Simonyan wrote on her Telegram channel.
Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency head Dmitry Kiselev pointed out that freedom of speech was no longer a value in the United States, commenting on the fate of Assange.
Ben Wizner, director of the speech, privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union, described the US prosecution of Assange as "unprecedented and unconstitutional."
"Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations," Wizner said.
According to the Center for Investigative Journalism, the arrest of Assange constituted a blow to the entire field of investigative journalism.
"Whatever your view of its philosophy of radical transparency, Wikileaks is a publisher. Any charges now brought in connection with that material, or any attempt to extradite Mr Assange to the United States for prosecution under the deeply flawed cudgel of the Espionage Act 1917, is an attack on all of us," the organization’s statement said.
Christophe Deloire, the head of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) international non-profit organization advocating freedom of the press, said that targeting Assange because of the WikiLeaks activity would be a "dangerous precedent" that the United States could pursue in future.
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) called on the UK authorities to observe such principles as human rights and freedom of expression when dealing with the case of the WikiLeaks founder.
"The ECPMF joins Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in calling for the United Kingdom to observe human rights and freedom of expression in its treatment of Assange. His contributions through WikiLeaks, used by outlets around the world for journalistic reporting, should be taken into account, as well as the necessity to protect sources. Harsh punishment against Assange could pose a danger to press freedom by deterring whistleblowers from denouncing abusive practices by those in power," the ECPMF said in a statement.
Another famous whistleblower – former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden – pointed out that the detention of Assange had been recognized as arbitrary and violating human rights by the United Nations.
Some parties took a cautious stance toward Assange’s arrest, having refrained from open criticism of Assange’s arrest by the UK police.
"As a general rule, we will not improvise position on events that are unfolding ... since we have taken the podium. We will be following closely, and we will come back to you if there is an EU angle. But we understand that this being a judicial European arrest warrant in case Sweden is also involved, this will be as you know, discussed many times here — a process in the hands of the judges. When judges speak, politicians should shut up. And executives, I would say," Chief Spokesman for the European Commission Margaritis Schinas said.
A similar position was taken by the Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, which also noted that journalists should not be prosecuted over WikiLeaks’ activities.
"The Office has not intervened in this case in the past. We will follow it paying close attention that journalists are not prosecuted in relation to WikiLeaks," the office said.
The Human Rights Watch group said it needed more information on the issue to comment on it.
"We are not commenting at this time until more information is known, and are awaiting greater clarity on the charges," the advocacy group said.
UN General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa said she expected Assange’s rights to be protected, according to the principles of international law.
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