By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate managing editor
LONDON, England – The Ecuadorian embassy in London was the home of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for seven years. That accommodation ended abruptly on Thursday when Assange was arrested by British police and carried out of Ecuador’s embassy in London to face a US extradition request.
Ecuador said it is guided by the principle of law, complies with international law and protects the interest of Ecuadorians. Ecuadorian president, Lenin Moreno said in a video message that Assange had his diplomatic asylum withdrawn due to “repeatedly violating international conventions,” alluding to the US extradition request and the result of “extensive dialogue” between the UK and Ecuador.
“I can confirm that Julian Assange is now in police custody and rightly facing justice in the UK,” British home secretary Sajid Javid said on Twitter. “No one is above the law,” acknowledging Ecuador for its “cooperation” in the long-running case.
Jennifer Robinson, a member of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks’ legal team since 2010 also tweeted, “Just confirmed: #Assange has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a US extradition request,” and “from #Assange: The US warrant was issued in December 2017 and is for conspiracy with Chelsea Manning in early 2010.”
At Westminster magistrates’ court on Thursday afternoon, Assange pleaded not guilty but was convicted of failing to surrender to police June 29, 2012. He will be sentenced in Crown court. He faces extradition hearings May 2 and June 12.
US prosecutors announced charges on Thursday against Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to a government computer as part of one of the largest compromises of classified information in US history. Assange, 47, faces up to five years in prison according to the indictment released on Thursday by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. His arrest paved the way for his possible extradition to the United States.assange_indictment
Last year, US attorney general, Jeff Sessions said Assange’s arrest was a “priority,” while then CIA director Mike Pompeo said: “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
WikiLeaks has been a source of worry for the US, following embarrassing and personal assessments of international figures, albeit WikiLeaks’ recent activity is said to have benefited the current administration, through the leak of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails obtained by Russian-backed hackers.
US secretary of state Hilary Clinton, at the time, said the leaks “tore at the fabric of government” and pledged “aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information.”
During the US presidential campaign Donald Trump declared “I love WikiLeaks,” he said October 10. “I hope people are looking at the disgraceful behaviour of Hillary Clinton as exposed by WikiLeaks,” Trump tweeted October 11, 2016. “She is unfit to run.”
However, hours after the arrest of Assange in London, President Trump said at the White House on Thursday, “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing. I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I’ve been seeing what’s happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who’s doing an excellent job. So, he’ll be deciding. I know nothing really about him.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina and a Trump ally, tweeted: “I’m glad to see the wheels of justice are finally turning when it comes to Julian Assange. In my book, he has never been a hero. His actions — releasing classified information — put our troops at risk and jeopardised the lives of those who helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Senator, Mark Warner of Virginia, ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, said he hoped the British courts would quickly transfer Assange to US custody “so he can finally get the justice he deserves.”
Assange’s lawyer previously said he planned to fight any US charges against him.
Speaking to media following court proceedings on Thursday, attorney Robinson said, “We will continue to fight to ensure his freedom”.
His arrest “sets a dangerous precedent for all media organisations and journalists. Since 2010 we’ve warned that Julian Assange would face extradition to the US for his publishing activities with WikiLeaks,” Robinson added, “Unfortunately today we’ve been proven right.”
Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in a statement, “Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges.”
Meantime activist groups are organising against the genuine threat to press freedoms, question whistleblower protection, and the fulfilment of an agenda aimed at suppressing publication and to silence a journalist.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, criticized Assange’s arrest on social media saying, “The hand of ‘democracy’ squeezes the throat of freedom,” while former US government contractor Edward Snowden, a whistleblower, now a fugitive, wrote on social media, “Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.”