WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by British police at Ecuador’s embassy in London on Thursday after seeking asylum in the diplomatic mission since 2012.
The 47-year-old Australian had lived in a small apartment in the embassy where he sought refuge while facing an investigation for sexual assault and rape in Sweden, claims which were later dropped.
He had denied the allegations, claiming they were politically motivated and part of a plot to ultimately extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for exposing classified information.
Assange became famous as the frontman for WikiLeaks, a whistleblowing website that exposed government secrets worldwide. He was applauded by transparency and anti-war campaigners for revealing the death of civilians, torture and clandestine military operations with the release of 500,000 US documents on the Iraq and Afghan wars.
However, the US and its allies accused him of risking people’s lives by revealing information on sources, intelligence techniques and key infrastructure sites.
Some of the most damaging leaks came in 2010, with a video showing a US military helicopter firing on and killing two journalists and several Iraqi civilians on a Baghdad street in 2007.
That was followed by more than 90,000 classified US military files from the Afghan war, 400,000 from Iraq about 250,000 US diplomatic cables covering almost every country in the world.
Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 and a judge ordered his extradition to Sweden. Although the Swedish claims were eventually dropped, he still faced arrest by British police for having jumped bail.
Ecuador’s then president, Rafael Correa, said Assange’s human rights could be at risk and offered him refuge, but his successor, Lenin Moreno who took office in 2017, took a harder line. He accused Assange of interfering in foreign affairs and Ecuador temporarily cut his internet connection last year. Last week the embassy said the Australian had “repeatedly violated” the terms of his stay.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for the Swedish woman who accused Assange of rape in 2010 said Thursday she and her client would ask Swedish prosecutors to reopen the investigation which was dropped in 2017.
Ecuador’s president said Assange would not be extradited to any country where he could face “torture or the death penalty.” “I asked Great Britain the guarantee that Mr Assange will not be extradited to any country in which he could suffer torture or face the death penalty,” President Moreno said in a video message posted on social media.
“The British government has confirmed this in writing,” that they will meet this requirement, Moreno added.
Assange’s lawyer, Baltasar Garzon, said his client is the target of “political persecution.”
“There is evident political persecution which started precisely with the massive publication by WikiLeaks in 2010 of cables and very serious information” which Assange had published, said Garzon.
“The threats against Julian Assange for political reasons, persecution on the part of the United States, are more current than ever,” said Garzon, who also accused Ecuador’s president of lying about why Assange’s citizenship of the South American state was revoked.