Eli Ridder | Report
British police pulled whistleblower Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorean embassy on Thursday after his seven-year asylum was revoked, setting the Australian up for extradition to the United States for one of the largest leaks of classified information in history.
Video: RT Snagged Exclusive Video of Assange’s Arrest
Assange, sporting a long white beard, was seen being carried out by several police officers to a waiting van around 9 a.m. local time. He was yelling “this is unlawful” and “I’m not leaving”.
Assange said he was not guilty in failing to surrender to British authorities in 2012 in front of a London judge, Michael Snow, who convicted him of skipping bail with sentencing scheduled for a later date. The maximum sentence for the crime is 12 months.
There will be a consideration by the justice system in the United Kingdom over whether to extradite Assange to the United States, where prosecutors said after the arrest that they had charged Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified U.S. government computer with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.
To some, the white-haired Assange is a hero for exposing what his supporters say is an abuse of power by several countries and for promoting free speech via the leaks that he carried out, but others say he is a dangerous vigilante who attacked U.S. national security.
Assange, who ran WikiLeaks until recently from the small, cramped rooms of the Ecuadorian embassy, made headlines in 2010 when, via WikiLeaks, he published a classified U.S. military video showing an attack by Apache helicopters in 2017 inside Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including journalists.
Countless other documents were released by whistleblower, who fled the U.S. soon after.
The United Nations’ Human Rights office has repeatedly called for the whistleblower to be allowed to leave the embassy and walk free, most recently releasing a statement in December 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters he “knows nothing about” WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, despite the fact that Trump repeatedly professed his love for the publication during the 2016 presidential campaign.
U.S. charges Assange
The United States charged Julian Assange in March 2018 of conspiring to hack a computer as the judicial response to his leak of huge amounts of classified files in 2010, in an indictment that was unsealed on Thursday, which puts him for the first time within close reach of U.S. custody.
The charge, “Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion”, is part of his agreement to break past a password and into a U.S. government computer in coordination with then-U.S. army private Bradley Manning. The charge carries a penalty with a maximum five years in prison.
It is significant that Washington did not charge Assange with an espionage-related crime that would have resulted in a significantly longer sentencing and a more serious case in general, according to analysts. The New York Times reports that up until last year, the U.S. government considered charged Assange with an espionage offence.
The United Kingdom’s House of Commons clapped and cheered when Prime Minister Theresa May announced the arrest of Julian Assange on Thursday morning, saying it shows “no one is above the law” in the country.
Ecuador’s former president, who granted Assange asylum in the embassy in London seven years ago, criticized the current leader, President Lenin Moreno for allowing the Metropolitan Police inside their embassy, saying that because WikiLeaks revealed corruption by Moreno, he was taking revenge.
Moreno said he took the action due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily life”.
Edward Snowden, also considered a prominent whistleblower who fled the United States in 2013, said on Twitter that “the weakness of the US charge against Assange is shocking”. Snowden now lives in Russia and is a fugitive from Washington.
“The allegation he tried (and failed?) to help crack a password during their world-famous reporting has been public for nearly a decade: it is the count Obama’s DOJ refused to charge, saying it endangered journalism.”
Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, called on the UK in a statement “to prioritize the principles of freedom of expression and protection of the role of journalism, including journalistic sources, in their treatment of Assange”.
“Assange had refused to leave the Ecuadorian embassy during that time out of fear that he could be extradited to Sweden and face charges in the United States in connection with Wikileaks’ publication of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables in 2010.”
Italy and Bolivia have since criticized the British handling of the Assange case.
The Centre for Investigative Journalism said that WikiLeaks is a publisher and the arrest of Assange is an attack on journalists as a whole.
“Charges now brought in connection with its material, or any attempt to extradite Assange to the United States for prosecution under the deeply flawed cudgel of the Espionage Act 1917, is an attack on all of us,” a statement said.
Image of Julian Assange inside police van on Thursday via Reuters news agency on Twitter.