WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London Thursday and arrested by British authorities. He now faces extradition to the United States.
Assange, 47, was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had been living since being granted political asylum in 2012. He was charged with violating the terms of his bail by London authorities and found guilty by a judge shortly after on Thursday, The New York Times reported.
Assange now faces extradition to the United States where he faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Assange is not charged with the release of information in the infamous 2010 WikiLeaks release of secret government information but is accused of working to help whistleblower Chelsea Manning hack a classified government computer.
The charge carries up to five years in prison, far less than the potential espionage charge experts believed Assange may face.
Assange has a right to challenge his extradition in British court.
Assange case goes back nearly a decade:
Assange has been wanted by the United States since WikiLeaks released a slew of secret files that documented the killing of civilians and journalists and the abuse of detainees by the US and other countries’ military forces as well as cables revealing officials’ candid and sometimes embarrassing remarks.
Army private Chelsea Manning was convicted of leaking the files to WikiLeaks. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Her sentence was commuted by President Obama after seven years.
Though political leaders have long called for Assange to be charged with espionage for disseminating classified information, the Defense Department charged him only with the hacking charge.
Assange agreed to help Manning crack a password on a Defense Department computer in March 2010, prosecutors allege.
Assange was also linked to Russian operatives in WikiLeaks’ release of hacked emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 though he has not been charged with any crime in that episode. Assange denied getting the emails from Russia.
Arrest comes after Ecuador eviction:
Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faced sexual assault allegations. He argued that the allegations were false and that Sweden wanted to extradite him to the United States over the WikiLeaks release. Sweden ultimately rescinded its warrant for Assange in 2017.
Assange’s ouster comes after new Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno took over in 2017. Moreno had been outspoken about his desire to move past the Assange situation.
Moreno said in a video posted after the arrest that Assange had exhausted the embassy’s patience by installing electronic surveillance equipment, blocking security cameras, and attacking guards.
“Finally two days ago, WikiLeaks, the organization of Mr. Assange, threatened the government of Ecuador,” Moreno said. “My government has nothing to fear and doesn’t act under threat.”
Former President Rafael Correa, who granted asylum to Assange, called Moreno a “traitor” for evicting the WikiLeaks founder.
“The greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history, Lenin Moreno, allowed the British police to enter our embassy in London to arrest Assange,” he tweeted. “Moreno is a corrupt man, but what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget.”