POLITICS

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Arrested On Unsealed Charges In London

A British judge also found the WikiLeaks founder guilty on previous bail charges.

Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested Thursday in London on a single conspiracy charge from United States prosecutors shortly after being arrested and found guilty on unrelated charges from a Swedish rape case that is no longer under investigation. 

The arrests came after the 47-year-old computer programmer’s diplomatic immunity status had been terminated at the Ecuadorian embassy. Assange had been holed up in residence there for nearly seven years amid growing dissatisfaction from Ecuadorian and British leaders, and his dismissal now exposes him to U.S. extradition.

Video footage of his arrest showed a ragged Assange struggling against British police as they guided him into a van.

“I told you so,” he said from his jail cell, attorney Jennifer Robinson told reporters.

Assange pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of having breached his bail conditions in the Swedish rape case. Although one of his lawyers argued that he had a “reasonable excuse” for doing so, Assange would not produce evidence for why he failed to surrender to custody. Magistrates’ Court District Judge Michael Snow quickly found him guilty, saying his behavior was that “of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest.”

He is expected to remain in custody until his May 2 extradition hearing.

Robinson says her team will fight the extradition, arguing that it would set a “dangerous precedent” for journalists who publish “truthful information about the United States,” the BBC reported. Key to the legal debate surrounding Assange is whether he can be considered a journalist, protected by First Amendment rights.

According to newly unsealed filings from the U.S. Department of Justice, Assange was indicted in March 2018 on a federal charge of conspiracy “to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia. The indictment claims he took part in a conspiracy with former military intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

If convicted, Assange faces up to five years in prison on the charge. CNN reported that he likely faces additional charges from American authorities, but a Justice Department representative stated there will be no further updates released Thursday.

President Donald Trump, who praised WikiLeaks several times during the 2016 presidential campaign, said Thursday that he had no opinion on Assange’s arrest. WikiLeaks infamously distributed materials hacked from Democratic National Committee servers that proved damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing,” Trump said from the Oval Office when asked if he still loves the organization.

A lawyer for Assange, Barry Pollack, said that “journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges.”

“The factual allegations against Mr. Assange boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identify of that source,” Pollack said. 

See the indictment (story continues below):

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno explained in a video why Ecuador decided to terminate Assange’s diplomatic asylum. 

“Today, I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied 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,” he said.  

Moreno accused Assange of behaving badly at the embassy, interfering with building security and attempting to access security files.

The Ecuadorian leader had traveled to London in July of last year to finalize an agreement to lift Assange’s asylum protection with the U.K. government, according to a report by The Intercept, citing a source within Ecuador’s foreign ministry.

U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that he was “pleased” with Thursday’s outcome. Assange was notified of the embassy’s decision to end his residence there shortly before 10 a.m. local time, he said.

U.K. and Ecuadorian authorities, Javid added, were becoming “increasingly concerned about the state of Mr Assange’s health.”

“The first action of the police following the arrest was to have him medically assessed and deemed fit to detain,” he continued, adding that Ecuador “made their best efforts” to allow health care professionals to access Assange during his stay in the embassy.  

In the past week, credible rumors began to circulate that Assange would be expelled, his asylum denied, and that he would face extradition to the U.S. for publishing thousands of classified military documents.

“This information came from a credible source high in the Ecuadorian Government,” Robinson, said of her client’s expulsion.

Last Friday, British police were seen stationed outside the embassy, though police said there had been no change in procedure. 

Assange first took refuge at the embassy in June 2012 after jumping bail while wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations of sexual assault and rape.

Though that criminal investigation was dropped last year, Assange, who is Australian, remained behind the embassy’s walls out of concern that he could face extradition to the U.S. for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents through Wikileaks, with the help of Manning.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in April 2017 that the arrest of Assange would become a priority for the Justice Department.

In February, Assange asked a Westminster Magistrates’ Court to withdraw an outstanding warrant for his arrest stemming from the bail-skipping incident ― for which he could face a year in jail if convicted.

But on Feb. 6, Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot upheld the arrest warrant, saying legal precedents “underline the importance of a defendant attending court” when on bail. 

Last year, the British government rejected a request from Ecuador to grant diplomatic status to Assange. Ecuador’s foreign minister has said Assange’s long-term stay in her country’s London embassy is “untenable.”

“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” the Foreign Office said in a statement at the time.

This article has been updated with Ecuador’s statement and further details on Assange’s arrest, as well as a response from Trump.

Liza Hearon and Paige Lavender contributed to this article.

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