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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces US jail extradition after embassy arrest

The Australian spent 2,487 days in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Victoria Jones/PA)
Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (Victoria Jones/PA)

Julian Assange faces up to five years in a US prison after he was arrested and forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London almost seven years after he sought refuge there.

The WikiLeaks founder was advised to “get over to the US” and “get on with your life” by a judge who also described him as a “narcissist” as he appeared in court and was found guilty of breaching his bail.

Police detained the 47-year-old on Thursday morning after the Ecuadorian government withdrew his asylum, blaming his interference in international affairs and saying he was discourteous to embassy staff.

He appeared at a packed Westminster Magistrates’ Court before District Judge Michael Snow, where he denied the bail breach but was convicted and told he faces a jail term of up to 12 months when he is sentenced at a later date at Crown Court.

Assange is also facing extradition to the US on charges of conspiring to break into a classified government computer, a charge the US Department of Justice said could attract a maximum jail sentence of five years.

The US accuses Assange of assisting Chelsea Manning, a former US intelligence analyst, in breaking a password that helped her infiltrate Pentagon computers.

Scotland Yard said Assange was held for failing to appear in court in June 2012 and “further arrested on behalf of the United States authorities, at 10.53am after his arrival at a central London police station”.

With his hair tied into a pony tail and sporting a long beard, he was seen shouting and gesticulating as he was carried from the embassy in handcuffs by seven men and put into a waiting van shortly after 10am.

The Ecuadorian ambassador to the UK, Jaime Marchan, said that in the time Assange has remained in the embassy he had been disrespectful, “continually a problem” and interfered in elections, politics and the internal affairs of other countries.

Mr Marchan said: “He was continually a problem to us, he was very disrespectful to the authorities, he has said that we were spying on him, he has said we were lying, we were agents of the United States.”

But WikiLeaks said Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”.

Australian Assange came to prominence after WikiLeaks began releasing hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic cables.

In 2010 an arrest warrant was issued for him for two separate allegations, one of rape and one of molestation, after he visited Sweden for a speaking trip.

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Police carry WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London (DailyDOOH/PA)

Assange launched a legal battle against extradition to Sweden from the UK but when that failed he entered the embassy, requesting political asylum.

Assange refused to leave, claiming he would be extradited to the US for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he did so.

The Ecuadorian government at the time was sympathetic to his cause but a regime change in 2017 heralded a less supportive approach and, after 2,487 days in the embassy building in the shadow of Harrods, he was finally removed.

In May 2017, Sweden’s top prosecutor dropped a long-running inquiry into a rape claim against Assange.

Swedish authorities have now said they are looking into a request from the lawyer for a woman who alleged she was raped by Assange during a visit to Stockholm in 2010, to reopen the investigation.

In a statement prosecutors said they will “now examine the case in order to determine how to proceed”, adding: “The investigation has not yet been resumed, and we do not know today whether it will be.”

Welcoming Assange’s arrest, Prime Minister Theresa May, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt all said it showed that no-one is “above the law”.

Mr Javid later told the House of Commons he was thankful to Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno for “resolving” the long-running situation at the embassy, saying the decision reflected improvements in the UK’s relationship with Ecuador under the country’s new leadership.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: “The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government.”

Donald Trump, who had declared “I love WikiLeaks” during his 2016 campaign when the website released damaging emails concerning Hillary Clinton, said following Assange’s arrest that “I know nothing really about him”.

Speaking outside court, WikiLeaks’ editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said Assange’s arrest was a “dark day for journalism” while Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said the development “sets a dangerous precedent for all journalist and media organisations in Europe and around the world”.

Assange was remanded in custody and will next appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on May 2 by prison video-link in relation to the extradition.

PA

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