Wikileaks founder and whistleblower Julian Assange was forcibly arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy on April 11 by the London police, after Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno withdrew the asylum granted to him. Assange was dragged out of the embassy, even as he defiantly shouted slogans, after the Ecuadorian ambassador invited the police to arrest him. While the police initially said Assange was arrested for jumping bail on a warrant that is no longer valid, they later confirmed it was based on an extradition request by the US.
Assange’s lawyer in London, Jen Robinson, also tweeted today that the arrest, apart from the existing warrants, is because of an extradition request from the US.
In November 2018, it was revealed that Assange was being indicted in secret in the US under the controversial Espionage Act. It was confirmed today that there is a standing warrant against him in the US from December 2017. He was living in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012, when president Rafael Correa granted him asylum. Assange was then under investigation for sexual assault charges in Sweden, the arrest warrants for which subsequently expired. However, from the very beginning, Assange and activists around the world have said that he was being targeted for exposing US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Just a few days ago, whistleblower Chelsea Manning was imprisoned for refusing to testify against Assange in front of a Grand Jury. Manning had already served seven years in prison and had been released in 2017.
Assange, who was an Australian citizen by birth, was given Ecuadorian citizenship in November 2017. President Moreno claimed that Assange had been rude and violated the terms of asylum. However, numerous reports indicate that Moreno withdrew the asylum in exchange for economic concessions. Recently, Wikileaks had reported on the INA papers, which exposed corruption among Moreno’s associates, prompting angry responses from the president. This is likely to have sped up action against Assange. Over the past year, the Moreno government had steadily taken away Assange’s freedom, virtually making him a prisoner in the embassy.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose escape from the US was aided by Wikileaks, was among those who condemned Assange’s arrest: “Images of Ecuador’s ambassador inviting the UK’s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of – like it or not – award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom,” he tweeted.
Over the past few days, a number of protests were held, after Wikileaks reported that Assange might be arrested. On April 5, a group of protesters had gathered outside the Ecuadorian embassy, against the Moreno government’s decision to hand over Assange.
Videos provided to Wikileaks by Manning revealed the murder of journalist Namir Noor-Eldeen in a US airstrike in Afghanistan, among other incidents. The documents also revealed the extent of torture of prisoners at the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq.