WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by UK police today after nearly seven years of being holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
Assange first sought refuge in the embassy in 2012, over fears a sexual assault case in Sweden would get him extradited to the US, where WikiLeaks has angered officials for publishing a trove of leaked security and diplomatic cables. Sweden has since rescinded its arrest warrant but said the case was not closed (paywall).
The first inklings that Assange would be expelled from the Ecuadorian embassy and arrested came last week, when WikiLeaks tweeted that such an event would transpire within “hours to days.”
Assange and Ecuador have been at loggerheads (paywall) for some time, with president Lenín Moreno, elected in 2017, calling him a “stone in our shoe.” Moreno has blamed WikiLeaks for the publication of personal information and allegations of corruption he is grappling with at home.
The Ecuadorian president announced this morning that he had waived diplomatic asylum for Assange. British police then entered the embassy, over a UK warrant issued for his arrest in 2012 as well as a US extradition request.
UK authorities thanked Ecuador and Moreno for cooperating over Assange’s arrest. “Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years,” foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted.
But several commentators and media oulets, including The Guardian yesterday, have called on the UK not to extradite Assange given the Trump administration’s more punitive stance. While former president Barack Obama commuted the prison term of Chelsea Manning, a whistleblower who leaked data on NSA spying programs to WikiLeaks in 2010, she was sent back to jail last month for not complying with an investigation into the organization.
Assange’s attorney, Jen Robinson, tweeted that the US extradition request was issued in 2017 and is linked to Manning’s case. WikiLeaks is also in the US’s sights for its role in Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election.
The US has not commented on whether it has made a formal extradition request. Moreno said UK officials have promised that Assange would not be extradited to any country where there’s a risk of torture or the death penalty.