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United Kingdom arrests Assange from embassy

PTI
Published Apr 12, 2019, 2:27 am IST
Updated Apr 12, 2019, 3:40 am IST
Ecuador prez says Wikileaks co-founder won’t be extradited to country with death penalty.
Julian Assange gestures while being taken away from the Ecuador Embassy.
 Julian Assange gestures while being taken away from the Ecuador Embassy.

London: A UK court on Thursday found Julian Assange guilty on the charge of breaching his bail conditions after the Wikileaks co-founder was arrested by Scotland Yard officers from his Ecuador Embassy hideout in London as the South American country withdrew the asylum granted to him.

Assange, who has also been arrested on a provisional US extradition warrant, was produced before Westminster Magistrates Court in London where he pleaded not guilty to the charge of failing to surrender. Describing his behaviour as that of a ‘narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest,’ District Judge Michael Snow ruled Assange was guilty for breaching bail and ordered him to appear via videolink on May 2 for an extradition hearing.

 

The court heard that during his arrest at the embassy after nearly seven years in hiding, the 47-year-old had to be restrained as he shouted: ‘This is unlawful, I am not leaving.’

Scotland Yard said after his initial arrest on breach of bail conditions in the UK, Assange was further arrested on behalf of the US authorities after his arrival at a central London police station on an extradition warrant. British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed the arrest in Parliament, describing it as a "legal matter" as Assange now faces extradition proceedings to the US on "charges relating to computer offences".

“He has also been arrested in relation to an extradition request from the United States authorities," May told the Commons in a statement. “This goes to show that in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law," she said.

Assange, who was seen in public after many years as he was dragged out of the Ecuador Embassy, appeared visibly aged and sporting a long white beard. He waved a thumbs-up sign at the public gallery in court as he was produced in court. He now faces a 12-month sentence in the UK on the charge of failure to surrender and will remain in judicial custody until he is sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London next month.

According to details that emerged in court, his extradition to the US is sought on alleged conspiracy charges related to one of the largest leaks of government secrets. Earlier on Thursday, the Metropolitan Police said its officers had executed a warrant against Assange dating back to June 29, 2012 for “failing to surrender” before a UKcourt.

The Australian-born campaigner has been holed up in a back room of the Ecuador embassy in central London for nearly seven years since his arrest on sexual assault charges in Sweden. He had claimed asylum on the grounds that he feared ultimate extradition to the US, where he claims to face a possible death sentence or torture for Wikileaks' alleged leak of American secrets.

Assange sought refuge at the Ecuador Embassy in Knightsbridge in June. 2012, having lost an appeal against extradition to Sweden for questioning on allegations of rape and sexual assault that went up to the UK Supreme Court.

While the Swedish case has since been dropped, Assange was wanted by Scotland Yard for breach of bail and faced arrest the moment he stepped out of the diplomatically immune territory.

But once that immunity was lifted, he was taken into custody. The UK government welcomed the arrest, which it said was the result of “extensive dialogue” between the UK and Ecuador.

“Ecuador's actions recognise that the UK's justice system is one in which rights are protected and in which, contrary to what Mr Assange and his supporters may claim, he and his legitimate interests will be protected,” UK home secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement to Parliament.

3 things to know about WikiLeaks

10 million leaks
WikiLeaks was founded in 2006.It hit its stride in 2010 when it worked NYT, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais. It has published more than 10 million leaked documents and associated analyses.

Controversy strikes  
Assange has denied claims it might be working with Russia. WikiLeaks raised a storm in July 2016 by releasing emails showing US Democratic Party officials favouring Hillary over Bernie Sanders in primary elections.

Arrest warrant   
The worst scandals to affect WikiLeaks have been those involving Assange. The white-haired Australian was holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, when he was facing rape charges in Sweden.

From whistleblower to asylum-seeker

July to October 2010: WikiLeaks releases about 470,000 classified military documents concerning American diplomacy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It later releases a further tranche of more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables.

November 2010: A Swedish prosecutor issues a European arrest warrant for Assange over sexual assault allegations involving two Swedish women. Assange denies the claims, saying the women consented.

December 2010: He turns himself in to police in London and is placed in custody pending a ruling on the Swedish extradition request.

February 2011: A British judge rules that Assange can be extradited to Sweden. Assange fears Sweden will hand him over to US authorities.

June 2012: He takes refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. He  gets political asylum.

October 2013: Ecuador asks Britain in vain to allow Assange to fly to Quito.

January 2016: Quito rejects an offer by Swedish prosecutors to question Assange in London.

February 2016: The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says Assange has been "arbitrarily detained" and should be able to claim compensation from Britain, Sweden.

May 2017: Swedish prosecutors say they have closed their seven-year sex assault investigation into Assange.

April 2019: Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno says Assange has "repeatedly violated" the conditions of his asylum.

April 11: British police say they have arrested Assange at the embassy after his asylum was withdrawn.

US soldier Chelsea Manning  handed WikiLeaks 700,000 classified documents.

She spent more than three years in jail and freed but again jailed in March 2019.

Ex-US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has also received WikiLeaks's backing.

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