Assange arrested in London, faces hacking charges in US
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was forcibly bundled out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London and into a British police van yesterday, setting up a possible court battle over attempts to extradite him to the United States to face charges related to the publication of tens of thousands of secret government documents.
Police arrested Assange after the South American nation revoked the political asylum that had given him sanctuary for almost seven years.
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said he took the action due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily life.”
The US Justice Department accused Assange with conspiring with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer at the Pentagon. The charge was announced after Assange was taken into custody. His lawyer said Assange would fight extradition to the US.
Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was released on bail in Britain while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped. He refused to leave the embassy, fearing arrest and extradition to the US for publishing classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.
Over the years, Assange used the embassy as a staging post to keep his name before the public, frequently making appearances on its tiny balcony, posing for pictures and reading statements. Even his cat became well-known.
But his presence was an embarrassment to UK authorities, who for years kept a police presence around the clock outside the embassy, costing taxpayers millions in police overtime. Such surveillance was removed years ago, but the embassy remained a vocal point for his activities.
Video posted online by Ruptly, a news service of Russia Today, showed several men in suits pulling Assange out of the embassy and loading him into a police van while uniformed British police formed a passageway. Assange sported a full beard and slicked-back gray hair.
He later appeared in Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where District Judge Michael Snow wasted no time in finding him guilty of breaching his bail conditions, flatly rejecting his assertion that he had not had a fair hearing and a reasonable excuse for not appearing.
“Mr Assange’s behavior is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” Snow said. “He hasn’t come close to establishing ‘reasonable excuse.’”
Assange waved to the packed public gallery as he was taken away to the cell. His next appearance was set for May 2 via prison video-link in relation to the extradition case.
Assange’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson, said he will fight any extradition to the US, adding that his arrest set a dangerous precedent for journalists in the US.