The Australian Wikileaks founder shocked the world by disclosing diplomatic cables containing sensitive information.
A UK court rejected the US request for Julian Assange’s extradition to Washington, bringing the Wikileaks founder’s controversial case into a new light, making many question whether the motives behind the case are political.
While the British court found the US demand for Assange’s extradition reasonable, it still ruled against it on the grounds that the infamous American supermax prison conditions could put the Australian at risk of suicide.
Nearly a decade later, many may have forgotten where, when and why the case began in the first place.
Here is a quick run-through of all the questions you might have surrounding Julian Assange:
Where and when does the story start?
Assange was born in Australia in 1971. From a young age, he was involved in hacking. Some even claimed that he might have been part of the plot against NASA in 1989.
Assange and his friends established Wikileaks in 2006 where they began publishing their hacks. Among their revelations, the group published details on various topics ranging from US drone strikes in Yemen, to corruption in the Arab world.
But Assange’s real trouble started when Wikileaks began publishing US diplomatic cables regarding its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2010, the group published a well-known video, Collateral Murder, showing the shocking video of a US military mission in Iraq, where American soldiers killed 18 people including two Reuters journalists.
That same year, Wikileaks also published top secret US army files related to the Afghanistan War, supplied by Chelsea Manning, a US military intelligence analyst.
"We always expect tremendous criticism. It is my role to be the lightning rod … to attract the attacks against the organization for our work, and that is a difficult role. On the other hand. I get undue credit," Assange said at the time, describing how he was becoming personally liable for the consequences of their work.
But after the group published a huge amount of US diplomatic cables, aka ‘Cablegate’, in November 2010, the American justice system decided to open a formal investigation against Assange.
In 2011, the group also published the Guantanamo Bay files, where many alleged Al Qaeda militants had been held on flimsy charges or not charged at all. Most Guantanamo Bay prisoners were later released despite being incarcerated for lengthy periods.
What was the case against him?
Washington’s case is based on an old law, the Espionage Act of 1917. The current US extradition request to the UK is based on Assange’s alleged violation of this law, putting in danger US servicemen, intelligence officials and informants by revealing their identities.
Assange’s defence team argues that his actions are no more dangerous than investigative journalism.
In 2013, four years before Trump’s White House moved to escalate their fight against Assange, the Obama administration considered charging him on the grounds of the 1917 law. They, however, could not find concrete evidence, which could suggest that he worked on behalf of other countries.
Another legal problem was the nature of Assange’s actions: if they, or any publication of sensitive US documents amounted to a crime, then, the US would also have to sue the news organisations - including many members of the American media - which were complicit simply by publishing anything Wikileaks revealed.
In 2019, the Trump administration wanted to go ahead with the case in order to avoid the statute of limitations which would permanently prevent them from charging Assange. According to the statute, an individual cannot be tried for a crime after a pre-determined (specific to the crime) period has passed since the alleged incident was first committed.
Is the Assange case politically motivated?
Prominent human rights groups answer that with a resounding ‘yes’.
"We welcome the fact that Julian Assange will not be sent to the USA and that the court acknowledged that due to his health concerns, he would be at risk of ill-treatment in the US prison system. But the charges against him should never have been brought in the first place,” said Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International’s Europe director, in a statement after the UK court’s decision.
“The charges were politically-motivated, and the UK government should never have so willingly assisted the US in its unrelenting pursuit of Assange,” added Muiznieks.
Another smoking gun often raised to cite political motivations against Assange, were the sexual assault allegations he faced in Sweden. In 2010, Assange was in Sweden and during his time there, two women accused him of sexually assaulting them. The charges were later dropped for a ‘lack of evidence to form the basis of an indictment’.
Assange’s team believes that all assault accusations were set up as an extradition trap to bring the hacker to the US. The allegations forced Assange, who returned to the UK in the same year, to seek asylum with the Ecuador government. He stayed exiled within the country’s diplomatic mission in London from 2012 to 2019.
Interesting facts about Assange
Assange has been labelled by the US as an enemy of the state.
However, he appears to have many allies, ranging from the Russian government, a primary political rival of the US, as well as Mexico, a country, which has suffered US aggression, losing much of its territory in the past, and Bolivia, a state led by a socialist leadership. Pamela Anderson, a once-popular American actress model, is also a supporter.
Anderson’s regular visits to him in his diplomatic enclave in London triggered rumours that the high-profile figures might be in a romantic relationship.
“We are friendly, yes — very friendly,” said Anderson during a TV show in 2017.
“I love Julian. He’s one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He’s very brave and there’s nothing sexier than courage,” she added.
After the recent Assange extradition decision, she expressed her happiness. “The fight is not over,” she tweeted yesterday.
Despite being holed up in an embassy, Assange’s love life has not been dormant. He has fathered two sons with his lawyer and romantic partner, Stella Morris, during his time there.
His hallmark white hair used to be brown but turned its ice-white hue during his legal fight with his ex-wife over the custody of his first child.