LONDON – British police entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday, forcibly removing the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on a US extradition warrant and bringing his seven-year stint there to a dramatic close.
Video showed a heavily bearded Assange shouting and gesticulating as multiple officers hustled him into a waiting police van. He was arrested on charges that he skipped bail in the UK in 2012 and at the request of US authorities, London’s Metropolitan police said.
Officers moved in after Ecuador withdrew his asylum and invited authorities into the embassy, citing Assange’s bad behavior.
The US Department of Justice confirmed Assange had been indicted on a single charge of conspiring to steal military secrets with Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who supplied thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.
The Department of Justice said that the indictment, signed on March 6 last year and unsealed Thursday, alleges Assange conspired “to assist Manning in cracking a password” on classified Department of Defense computer systems. He has not been indicted under the Espionage Act, as his supporters had feared. Such a move would likely have provoked protests from free-speech advocates.
Assange, who is from Australia, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in central London on Thursday afternoon, where he was charged with failing to surrender in 2012.
One of his lawyers argued that he declined to do so for fear that he would not receive a fair trial, forcing him to seek asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The judge, however, called Assange “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest,” finding him guilty of breaking his bail conditions. He faces up to 12 months in prison.
Assange must also appear for an extradition hearing on May 2, before which he will remain in custody.
Speaking to journalists in a scrum outside Westminster Magistrates Court on Thursday afternoon, Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange’s legal team, said they had been proven right in regards to their previous warnings that Assange would face extradition to United States for his “publishing activities” since 2010.
“I’ve just been with Mr. Assange in the police cell, he wants to thank all of his supporters for the ongoing support, and he said — ‘I told you so.’ “
Robinson added her client was formally notified his asylum would be revoked by the Ecuadorian ambassador on Thursday morning.
The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up at the embassy, yards from the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, since 2012, when he was granted asylum as part of a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was facing allegations of sexual assault.
The Swedish case has since been dropped, but Assange feared US extradition due to his work with WikiLeaks and remained in the embassy. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Relations between Assange and staff became strained during his seven-year stay in the embassy. Ecuadorian officials claimed the WikiLeaks founder smeared feces of the walls of the building.
Ecuadorian authorities “tolerated things like Assange putting feces on the embassy walls and other behaviors far from the minimum respect that a guest can have,” the country’s Interior Minister María Paula Romo said.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said in a video statement Thursday that his country withdrew Assange’s asylum due to his “discourteous and aggressive behaviour,” “the hostile and threatening declarations of his allied organization against Ecuador” and “the transgression of international treaties.”
Assange “violated the norm of not intervening in internal affairs of other states,” Moreno said. “The most recent incident occurred in January 2019, when WikiLeaks leaked Vatican documents. Key members of that organization visited Mr. Assange before and after such illegal acts,” he added.
Those tense years in hiding came to an abrupt end on Thursday morning.
A lawyer for the US government said officers went to the embassy at 9:15 a.m. local time (4:15 a.m. ET). The ambassador then revoked Assange’s asylum and met with him at 10 a.m. (5 a.m. ET). The lawyer said officers tried to introduce themselves, but Assange barged past them in an attempt to return to a private room.
He was eventually arrested at 10:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m. ET) but resisted and had to restrained, leading to dramatic scenes of British police hauling him by force out of the building. After being lifted into the waiting police van, he was taken directly to a police station where he was formally arrested.
In July 2016, WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 emails from Democratic National Committee staffers that appeared to show the committee favoring presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the US presidential primary.
Assange then told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the email release was timed to coincide with the start of the Democratic National Convention.
A US court filing in November 2018 inadvertently revealed US government efforts to criminally charge Assange.
Ecuador’s former President, Rafael Correa, told CNN that the revocation of Julian Assange’s asylum is “incredible.”
“It’s incredible. We cannot imagine something like this. It’s against international law; it’s against the institution of asylum; it’s against the Ecuadorian constitution, especially because since last year, Julian Assange has had Ecuadorian citizenship,” Correa said.
Correa was in power when Assange requested asylum. He told CNN he agreed to shelter the WikiLeaks founder “not because we agree with what he did” but because “it was very clear that he didn’t have the opportunity to have a fair lawsuit, a fair process in the US.”
Responding to Assange’s supposed violations, as outlined by Moreno earlier Thursday, Correa said: “They are lies. They’re a justification for trying to justify this betrayal. It’s the biggest betrayal perhaps in Latin-American history.”
President Donald Trump, when asked by reporters in the Oval Office whether he still “loves” WikiLeaks, said that he knows “nothing about Wikileaks.”
“I know nothing really about him,” Trump said of Assange, “That’s not my deal in life,” he added.
Trump had a history of supporting WikiLeaks before he was President, saying at one campaign rally in 2016: “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.”
On April 4, WikiLeaks tweeted from its verified account, “BREAKING: A high level source within the Ecuadorian state has told @WikiLeaks that Julian Assange will be expelled within “hours to days” using the #INAPapers offshore scandal as a pretext–and that it already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest.”
In a statement released Friday, Assange’s own legal team said that expelling him from the embassy would “violate international refugee law.”
“It will be a sad day for democracy if the UK and Ecuadorean governments are willing to act as accomplices to the Trump administration’s determination to prosecute a publisher for publishing truthful information,” the statement read.
The Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry denied the rumors in a statement, calling them “fake news” and adding that the allegation of a deal with the UK “misrepresents reality.” (CNN)