US authorities seek to accuse Assange of espionage
Julian Assange was born in Townsville, in the Australian state of Queensland, in 1971 and led a rootless childhood while his parents ran a touring theatre. He became a father at 18.
In 1995 Mr Assange was accused, with a friend, of dozens of hacking activities. He was subsequently fined several thousand Australian dollars.
Assange began Wikileaks in 2006 with a group of like-minded people from across the web, creating a web-based "dead-letterbox" for would-be leakers. He set up Wikileaks with the aim of obtaining and publishing confidential documents and images. Wikileaks came to prominence with the release of the footage of the US soldiers shooting civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.
Assange promoted and defended the video, as well as the massive release of classified US military documents on the Afghan and Iraq wars in July and October 2010. The documents WikiLeaks published, obtained by Chelsea Manning, revealed evidence of serious criminal wrongdoing by the United States armed forces.
In 2010 Assange faced sexual allegations by Sweden. Having claimed that such efforts were politically motivated and part of a smear campaign, Assange sought refuge within the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He later complained to the UN that he was being unlawfully detained as he could not leave the embassy without being arrested. In February 2016, the UN panel ruled in his favour, stating that he had been "arbitrarily detained" and should be allowed to walk free and compensated for his "deprivation of liberty".
In 2016, Sweden's chief prosecutor visited Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in London to question him over the 2010 rape allegation. The sexual assault allegations were dropped after prosecutors ran out of time to question and bring charges against Assange. Subsequently the European Arrest Warrant against Assange was also dropped. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police claimed that Mr Assange would face the lesser charge of failing to surrender to a court in June 2012, an offence punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine.
Ecuador's position vis-à-vis Mr Assange changed after President Correa was succeeded in office by Lenín Moreno. In a statement, President Moreno said he had "inherited this situation" and that Mr Assange had ignored Ecuador's requests to "respect and abide by these rules".
His decision to withdrew Mr Assange's asylum followed "repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols", as well as violating "the norm of not intervening in the internal affairs of other states".
Mr Assange was then arrested at London's Ecuadorean embassy by Metropolitan Police officers for "failing to surrender to the court".
At a central London police station, Assange was further arrested at the request of the US seeking his extradition over allegations he conspired with former US military analyst Chelsea Manning to download classified databases in what the US justice department called “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”. If convicted, Assange faces a maximum sentence of five years.
RESPONCES & CONCERNS
Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons: "This goes to show that in the UK, no one is above the law." Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the arrest was the result of "years of careful diplomacy" and that it was "not acceptable" for someone to "escape facing justice". In the Atlantic, Michael Weiss said Assange “got what he deserved ”.
However, there was condemnation of the arrest from many quarters. Many believe that it is a very clear effort by the US government to punish those who expose embarrassing secrets about its actions, and it could set a precedent that would threaten journalists everywhere. This prosecution is about silencing dissent rather than enforcing the law. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Assange had revealed "evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan" and his extradition "should be opposed by the British government”.
Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme her client’s arrest set a “dangerous precedent” that should concern free speech advocate. “His arrest today is “a free speech issue” because it “is all about the ways in which journalists can communicate with their sources. This is “an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information and would set a dangerous precedent for journalists or their sources that the US may wish to pursue in future.”
Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders said that the UK should resist extradition, because it would "set a dangerous precedent for journalists, whistle-blowers, and other journalistic sources that the US may wish to pursue in the future". Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said he would continue to receive "the usual consular support" and that consular officers will try to visit him.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed “deep concern” over the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the U.K. A statement issued by the CPJ said that it has “long raised concerns about the legal implications for a prosecution of Assange, primarily related to legal theories that he could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act”.
Amnesty International UK said that if Sweden pursues extradition over sexual assault allegations, then assurances should be made over not sending Assange to the US. “There is a very real risk that he could face human rights violations”
Snowden, the former US government contractor wanted for leaking details of US surveillance programmes, called the arrest a “dark moment for press freedom”