47-year-old Australian-born Julian Assange who founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past seven years has been arrested by British police under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain. He was charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and faces up to five years in prison in the United States, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. The arrest makes extradition now possible.
“I am sure that the whole House will welcome the news this morning that the Metropolitan Police have arrested Julian Assange,” Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament, saying “This goes to show that in the United Kingdom no one is above the law.”
In July 2010, WikiLeaks released more than 91,000 documents, most of them secret U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan. In October of that year, it released another 400,000 classified military files chronicling the war in Iraq from 2004 to 2009. Leading up the 2016 American Presidential election, WikiLeaks revealed Hillary Clinton’s use of an unsecured server to transmit potentially classified information via email.
Mr. Assange’s supporters consider him to be an advocate for free speech who challenges censorship and a hero for exposing what they describe as abuse of power by modern states. “Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges,” said Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Assange. Another of his lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, said the arrest set a “dangerous precedent” for the media where “This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States,” she said.
On Thursday, U.S. prosecutors announced charges against Mr. Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, formerly named Bradley Manning, to gain access to a government computer as part of one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history. Ms. Manning was convicted by court-martial in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for furnishing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables, and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks while she was an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Obama commuted the final 28 years of Manning’s 35-year sentence. The indictment was made secretly last year and unsealed on Thursday. Mr. Assange faces up to five years in prison if convicted, and legal experts anticipate more charges.
In November 2011, London’s High Court said Mr. Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes after accusations by two former WikiLeaks volunteers in 2010. After losing an appeal, Mr. Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in June 2012 to avoid being extradited. He was granted political asylum by the anti-American left-wing former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa. Mr. Assange remained in the embassy after Sweden dropped the investigation against him in 2017, fearing the U.S. would prosecute him.
In 2017 elections, Mr. Correa was replaced as Ecuadorean President by Lenin Moreno who has since moved Ecuador’s foreign policy to a more U.S.-friendly stance. He has been openly critical of Mr. Assange in recent months, calling him an inherited problem and accusing him of violating the rules of his asylum. President Moreno said the South American country had complied with its duties to Mr. Assange under international law and he accused Wikileaks of repeatedly violating the rules of his asylum, including a provision which was meant to stop him intervening in the internal matters of other countries. A leak of Vatican documents in 2019 was the most recent example of Mr. Assange violating that policy, President Moreno said in a video posted on Twitter.