By Luis Arellano
WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange was arrested yesterday in Ecuador’s embassy in London in connection with federal conspiracy in the United States regarding the illegal hacking of classified government documents.
Wikileaks has published many stolen files since it was founded in 2006 – including documents stolen from National Security Agency in 2013 by Edward Snowden, a government contractor, and emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee in 2013. Assange was specifically charged by U.S. officials for helping Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, a former US intelligence analyst, figure out a password that allowed her to steal some 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables in 2010.
The US Justice Department described it as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
Assange has been living in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since 2012, to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation.
The Ecuadoran government allowed the British police to enter their embassy and make the arrest.
Footage posted online showed police removing Assange from the grounds of the embassy where he had taken refugee since 2012. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno announced earlier on April 11 that South American nation had taken a “sovereign decision”to remove Julian Assange’s asylum status after the Ecuadorian government found Assange to be meddling in the affairs of national governments — most recently in WikiLeaks decision to publish Vatican government documents in January 2019.
“He has hidden from the truth for years and years and it is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system.” said British Foreign Secretary Jeremey Hunt in response to the arrest.
Assange, 47, was being held on charges for failing to show up in court in 2012 regarding Sweden’s extradition request.
American prosecutors are hoping to have Assange extradited to the United States. British authorities have said that the American extradition request contributed to their decision to arrest him.
Sweden may also have an interest in extraditing Assange. “We are going to do everything we possibly can to get the Swedish police investigation re-opened so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape,” said Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the lawyer for the Swedish woman who is Assange’s accuser in that case, “No rape victim should have to wait nine years to see justice be served.”
In particular WikiLeaks published material from four databases from classified government sources between January and May 2010.
The Justice Department has confirmed Assange faces up to five years in jail for his part in these crimes. The United Kingdom has assured Ecuador that he will not be extradited anywhere where he could face the death penalty.
Many foreign governments and civil liberties groups have condemned Assange’s arrest.
“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,” said Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons: “This goes to show that in the UK, no one is above the law.”