WikiLeaks founder charged with hacking, now faces US extradition

In a fast-moving development since Julian Assange’s arrest inside the Ecuadorian embassy earlier today for breaching U.K. bail conditions, the WikiLeaks founder has been rearrested on behalf of the U.S. — confirming that he will face extradition proceedings.

In an updated statement the Met Police said:

Julian Assange, 47, (03.07.71) has today, Thursday 11 April, been further arrested on behalf of the United States authorities, at 10:53hrs after his arrival at a central London police station. This is an extradition warrant under Section 73 of the Extradition Act. He will appear in custody at Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as possible.

Assange was rearrested while in custody of London’s Met Police, and is due in Westminster Magistrates Court this afternoon, according to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks also tweeted that Assange has been arrested under a U.S. extradition warrant on a conspiracy charge for publishing classified information that was leaked to WikiLeaks by former army intelligence analyst and whistleblower, Chelsea Manning.

The existence of a sealed charge against Assange in the U.S. was revealed inadvertently last year after an unrelated court filing was found to contain information on a sealed charge against the WikiLeaks founder.

In a statement, Justice Department prosecutors confirmed Thursday that Assange was charged with conspiracy to hack into a classified U.S. computer. Prosecutors said the WikiLeaks founder helped Manning crack a password, allowing her to log onto the classified U.S. government network, known as SIPRNET, under a username that didn’t belong to her to mask her leaking efforts.

Journalists are for the most part covered under the First Amendment’s free speech protections from publishing classified information, which alone is not a criminal act. But Assange is also accused of “actively encouraging” Manning to leak information from the classified network.

Assange faces up to five years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

Manning’s sentence was commuted by President Obama just before he left office in 2017 and she was released from prison in May that year. She was rearrested in March this year for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning remains in a U.S. prison.

The process of extraditing Assange from the U.K. to the U.S. could take years. And the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

In the separate case of British computer hacker, Gary McKinnon, the then Home Secretary Theresa May stepped in to block extradition in 2012 on health grounds, for example.

Speaking to BBC News, one of Assange’s lawyers, the barrister Geoffrey Robertson, said (via The Guardian): “His case will be that America is behaving exorbitantly claiming to extradite a publisher who has published information of public importance.”

Robertson also suggested Assange is better off in U.K. police custody rather than the Ecuadorian embassy on account of his “health problems”.

Prior to his arrest earlier today, Assange had been holed up in the embassy since 2012 where he fled while on bail in the U.K. related to sex crime charges brought by prosecutors in Sweden.

Those charges were later dropped but Assange remained in the embassy saying he feared being extradited to the U.S. Once Ecuador withdrew Assange’s diplomatic asylum earlier today U.K. police immediately moved in to arrest him.

Update: After a brief court appearance in London today Assange was found guilty of breaching bail conditions and remanded in custody for sentencing at a later date. The Guardian reports that he is due to appear in court in May in relation to the extradition charge.

You can read the U.S. indictment against Assange below.

This report was updated with a correction after we incorrectly stated Manning was pardoned by Obama; she was not pardoned but rather had the remainder of her sentence commuted. Updated with Justice Department statement.