The controversial Wikileaks co-founder has been arrested after seven years hiding out at the Ecuadorian embassy in London and charged by the US with conspiracy to hack a computer. Where does he go from here?
After more than seven years in a self-imposed refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, an aged and withered Julian Assange was dragged out by British police officers whilst protesting his innocence.
As Assange was being bundled into the back of a waiting police van he shouted what sounded like “They must resist, you can resist”.
URGENT— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) April 11, 2019
Julian Assange did not "walk out of the embassy". The Ecuadorian ambassador invited British police into the embassy and he was immediately arrested.
The co-founder of Wikileaks sought political asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped. Assange has always maintained his innocence, arguing that the extradition was a politically orchestrated attempt to have him extradited to the US.
Assange never shied from the media spotlight, regularly appearing at the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, much to the annoyance of his hosts, and airing his opinions on politically contentious matters despite pleas not to.
Assange was given refuge by Rafael Correa, the former president of Ecuador, who called out his former ally turned bitter enemy Lenin Moreno, his successor, after the Australian’s arrest.
“The greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history, Lenin Moreno, allowed the British police to enter our embassy in London to arrest Assange. Moreno is a corrupt man, but what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget,” said Correa.
Since Moreno came to power in 2017 he has sought to remove Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy. He has referred to Assange as an “inherited problem” and “a stone in the shoe”.
Assange, for his part, has proved to be a controversial public figure with a chequered private and professional life.
Founded in Iceland in 2006, Wikileaks made its trade leaking secret information provided by anonymous sources. Assange, an Australian citizen, quickly became the public face of the organisation.
Wikileaks argued: “One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.”
It would soon grab global attention when in 2010 it started publishing documents leaking information about the Iraq and Afghan Wars. By the end of that year more than 400,000 secret documents were released, making it one of the largest breaches of classified information in US history at the time.
The leaks would change an already wavering perception about the legality of the US occupation of Iraq and the Afghan war and its human rights abuses. Washington’s global standing received a significant blow as it soon became clear that US forces had indiscriminately targeted civilians.
Upon publication, the leaks would change Wikileaks and, in particular, Assange's life, irreversibly.
Shortly after his arrest in London, President Donald Trump’s administration charged Assange with conspiracy to hack a computer over the 2010 leaks, something that was long suspected. It will come as a relief that the charges do not relate to espionage. Assange will likely face years in UK courts appealing his extradition.
Unlike leaks in the past, Wikileaks allowed people access to America’s global wars in real time, as opposed to when they would normally be declassified many decades later. Their impact on the media, academia, and the government's ability to manage the public's perception was immediately challenged.
By providing the raw data, people didn’t have to like Wikileaks, they had access to the information first hand and could make up their own opinions.
From as far back as 2008, the US government was becoming increasingly worried about the asymmetric nature of the information provided by Wikileaks, a fact discovered in a leaked document by the organisation itself.
The darker side of Wikileaks is that it has been accused of releasing the identity of private individuals in a sensationalist bid to garner global attention.
In one such case, the group released the private information of millions of Turkish women in what it thought was private government communication. An Associated Press investigation found that the transparency group had released the information of hundreds of people including sick children, rape victims and mental health patients.
The organisation’s radical approach to transparency and Assange’s public persona has resulted in the organisation and its founder losing global goodwill.
In the run-up to the US presidential elections, which saw Trump winning in a tightly and bitterly fought race, Assange publicly inserted himself in the highly toxic environment of US politics.
The 2016 Democratic National Committee email leaks saw thousands of emails which incriminated the leadership of the Democratic Party for clearly having a bias towards Hillary Clinton and tipping the contests in her favour.
The highly embarrassing email leaks were defended by Assange who called it “an open model of journalism that gatekeepers are uncomfortable with”.
The leaks divided the Democratic Party, providing electoral material for Donald Trump. It also compounded the public perception that Clinton was not a clean candidate.
In a sovereign decision Ecuador withdrew the asylum status to Julian Assange after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols. #EcuadorSoberano pic.twitter.com/pZsDsYNI0B— Lenín Moreno (@Lenin) April 11, 2019
End of the road
From 2012, when Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy, he has not been an easy guest.
The Ecuadorian President announced in a televised address: "I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behaviour of Julian Assange...has led to the situation where asylum is unsustainable and no longer viable."
In March of last year, the Ecuadorian embassy cut off Assange’s internet after he breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”.
It further accused Assange of putting “at risk the good relations [Ecuador] maintains with the United Kingdom, with the other states of the European Union, and with other nations”.
Moreno highlighted the leak of Vatican documents in January 2019, suggesting that Assange continues to exert power in Wikileaks and act in such a way that harms Ecuador.
Assange will now face a prolonged extradition battle seeking to avoid what will likely be an extended prison term if he is sent to America.
For Assange, this will be one of the most important battles of his life and with a Trump administration in power, prosecutors will likely seek revenge for the years of humiliation he has inflicted on America.