UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Justice has unsealed an indictment against Julian Assange which charges the whistleblower with helping former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning crack a password giving her access to computer systems at the Department of Defense. Assange is also accused of “actively encouraging” Manning to provide more classified information. The WikLeaks founder faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by the Metropolitan Police in London on Thursday morning after Ecuador ended his seven-year asylum for his “discourteous and aggressive behavior.”
Video posted on social media shows a bearded Assange resisting arrest and being dragged out of the embassy by multiple police officers. During the arrest, Assange was holding a copy of Gore Vidal’s book “History of The National Security State.”
“Ecuador has decided to terminate the diplomatic asylum granted to Mr. Assange in 2012,” President Lenin Moreno said in a video statement posted on Twitter. “The asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable.”
Moreno specifically referenced WikiLeaks publication of sensitive Vatican documents in January as evidence of Assange’s ongoing meddling in other countries' affairs.
The Ecuador president, however, also said he secured in writing a commitment from the U.K. government that Assange would not be extradited to any country where he would face torture or the death penalty.
Assange is currently being held in a central London police station and will appear before a Magistrates’ Court “as soon as possible,” the police said. He is wanted in regards to an outstanding warrant issued by the Metropolitan Police after he skipped bail in 2012.
But Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson tweeted that her client was also arrested in relation to a U.S. extradition request.
WikiLeaks claimed Thursday that Moreno’s decision was linked to an attempt to cover up an offshore tax scandal.
“If President Moreno wants to illegally terminate a refugee publisher’s asylum to cover up an offshore corruption scandal, history will not be kind,” WikiLeaks said in a statement, later adding that his arrest was part of a CIA campaign to “dehumanize, delegitimize and imprison him.”
The whistle-blowing website last week predicted Assange would be expelled from the embassy “within hours or days.”
Russia has already criticized the arrests, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, labeling it “the hand of ‘democracy’ squeezing the throat of freedom.”
Just 24 hours prior to Assange’s arrest WikiLeaks claimed it had “uncovered an extensive spying operation against Julian Assange” being conducted by the Ecuadorian government, comparing it to “The Truman Show.”
Assange has been holed up in the embassy since August 2012 when he was seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was wanted in connection to allegations he raped two women. Assange always denied the allegations and Swedish authorities dropped the investigation in 2017.
But Assange does face the possibility that he will be extradited to the U.S. to face charges related to WikiLeaks publication of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables in 2010.
Last November a court filing error revealed Assange has been charged under seal, meaning he could be facing charges such as conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act.
Cover image: A senior Ecuadorian official said no decision had been made to expel the Wikileaks founder from the country's London embassy despite tweets from WikiLeaks that sources had told it he could be kicked out within "hours to days". Issue date: (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire URN:42159709/Press Association via AP Images)