London Metropolitan police has arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London. He has been holed up in the Embassy of Ecuador in London since 2012 in order to avoid a warrant against him. Ecuador withdrew Assange’s diplomatic asylum earlier today leading to his arrest.
A video has emerged of the moment of the arrest which shows a heavily bearded Assange being carried out of the embassy as he wags a finger and appears to say “the UK has no civility”.
In a video statement, Ecuador president Lenín Moreno announced the withdrawal of Assange’s 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 trangression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” Moreno said.
“Ecuador sovereignly has decided to terminate the diplomatic asylum granted to Mr. Assange in 2012,” he added.
In particular, Moreno highlights the leak of Vatican documents in January 2019. According to Moreno, this proves that Assange is still linked with WikiLeaks — he thinks that Assange interferes in internal affairs of other states.
“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behavior of Mr. Assange: He installed electronic and distortion equipment not allowed. He blocked the security cameras of the Ecuadorian Mission in London. He has confronted and mistreated guards. He had accessed the security files of our Embassy without permission. He claimed to be isolated and rejected the internet connection offered by the embassy, and yet he had a mobile phone with which he communicated with the outside world.”
Before releasing Assange, Ecuador asked British authorities not to extradite Assange to a country “where he could face torture or the death penalty.” The British government agreed to comply with the request.
The Metropolitan Police issued the following statement:
Julian Assange, 47, (03.07.71) has today, Thursday 11 April, been arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) at the Embassy of Ecuador, Hans Crescent, SW1 on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court.
He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates’ Court as soon as is possible.
The MPS had a duty to execute the warrant, on behalf of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, and was invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.
Wikileaks tweeted that Assange did not voluntarily leave the embassy — writing that British police were “invited” in and immediately arrested him:
We’ve reached out to Wikileaks for a formal statement.
The relationship between Assange and the country that afforded him diplomatic shelter in a few rooms in Knightsbridge for so many years has been growing increasingly strained.
Last year the embassy cut his access to the Internet and outside communication — saying it was implementing an isolation regime after Assange had breached a written commitment not to issue messages that might interfere with other states.
It later partially restored his access to the Internet and external visits after a UN intervention. But clearly Ecuador’s patience with the mercurial Wikileaks founder has worn thin.
Assange fled to the embassy after Swedish authorities issued a warrant for sexual assault allegations. Two women accused him of sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.
Those charges were dropped in 2017 by Swedish prosecutors who had sought a European arrest warrant to extradite him from the U.K. — but Assange has claimed he remains at risk of extradition to the U.S. to face charges of leaking sensitive U.S. government files.
The reason why British authorities arrested him today is that he breached bail conditions in the U.K. by seeking political refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy in 2012.
U.K. Foreign Minister, Jeremy Hunt, reacted to news of Assange’s arrest with a strongly-worded tweet:
The U.K. has an extradition treaty with the U.S. so it is highly likely U.S. authorities will seek to extradite Assange to face charges of leaking state secrets.
Though it is equally likely Assange would fight any attempt to extradite him.
In a press briefing at the start of last year the U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Steven Goldstein, was asked about Ecuador’s decision to grant Assange citizenship. Goldstein responded that the department does not discuss whether or not it is considering bringing Assange to the U.S. for trial.
But the Washington Post reported last November that Assange has been charged in the U.S. under seal — after prosecutors inadvertently revealed the development in an unsealed court filing in an unrelated case.
The nature of the charges Assange could face were not clear from the unsealed filing. But the existence of the charge against him makes the Trump administration’s intent to prosecute clear.
Wikileaks contends the charge against Assange represents a threat to press freedom.