JULIAN Assange gave a thumbs up as he was dramatically arrested by British cops today and dragged screaming from the Ecuadorian Embassy after seven years hiding inside.
The pale and bearded WikiLeaks founder, 47, was pulled out in handcuffs as Ecuador withdrew its asylum status – ending Assange’s 2,487 days holed up since 2012.
As he was hauled from the building – looking grey and clutching Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State – he appeared to shout “The UK has no civility” and “the UK must resist”.
Until today, Assange hadn’t left the embassy since August 2012 – costing the British taxpayer more than £10m.
He had feared stepping off Ecuador’s diplomatic soil would see him arrested and extradited to the US for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables.
Assange took refuge at the embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. Today one of his accusers demanded the case be reopened.
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR:
- Julian Assange has been arrested after 2,487 days holed up – costing British taxpayers more than £10m
- He went into hiding in August 2012 to avoid facing extradition to Sweden for sexual assault and rape allegations
- Sweden dropped the charges in 2017 but Swedish accuser today called for case to be re-opened
- Wanted in US for espionage and publication of sensitive government documents, and in UK for skipping bail in 2012
- He fears he could face death penalty if extradited to US over WikiLeaks scandal
- Ecuadorian President said Assange release dependent on not facing extradition to country with death penalty
- Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan said ‘UK courts will decide’ his future
- US State Department has not yet commented
Scotland Yard confirmed he is being held on behalf of the US authorities – where he is wanted for espionage – as well as breaching his bail conditions in Britain.
Espionage- the practice of spying or of using spies, typically by governments to obtain political and military information.
America’s involvement raises further questions over the forthcoming battle to be had on his extradition – as his lawyers fear he will face the death penalty if sent to the US.
But Ecuadorian President Moreno said today Britain had confirmed it would not extradite Assange to a country where he could face the death sentence.
After the arrest, Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan said Assange will face “justice in the proper way in the UK” and it will be “for the courts” to decide what happens next.
He insisted Assange would not be extradited to any country where he would stand to face the death penalty. The US State Department has not yet commented.
During his time in hiding Assange has been visited by numerous famous faces – most notably ex-Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, once rumoured to be his “lover”.
Today she tweeted her support for him – dubbing him a “hero” – after earlier retweeting an old photograph of him alongside the caption “truth will prevail” in Latin.
The actress wrote she was “in shock”, adding “he looks very bad” and claiming Assange’s arrest is “a diversion from your idiotic Brexit b*******”.
He has also been visited by ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who is alleged to have handed him a “thumb drive” of secret data.
Farage has openly admitted visiting the WikiLeak founder but dismissed claims of sharing data as “tosh” and “conspiratorial nonsense”.
Assange was arrested after cops were invited into the embassy when Ecuadorian authorities withdrew the asylum he has clung onto for seven years.
Dozens of officers swarmed his hideout in Knightsbridge, West London, this morning and pulled him down the steps, as he fought against the arrest.
Cops struggled to push him into a police van, as he screamed out and gestured with cuffed hands. Once inside the police van, the heavily bearded Assange gave a thumbs up to journalists.
Announcing the arrest today, Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno said on Twitter it came “after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols”.
But WikiLeaks said he had acted illegally, with the organisation accusing “powerful actors” of an effort to dehumanise it’s founder.
Edward Snowden today tweeted Assange’s detention was a “violation of his human rights”, as Russia brazenly accused Britain of “strangling freedom” following his arrest.
‘NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW’
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who is due to make a statement in the House of Commons on the arrest later, tweeted: “Nearly 7yrs after entering the Ecuadorean Embassy, I can confirm Julian Assange is now in police custody and rightly facing justice in the UK.
“I would like to thank Ecuador for its cooperation & @metpoliceuk for its professionalism. No one is above the law.”
And Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Assange’s arrest proved “no one is above the law”.
He said: “Julian Assange is no hero. He has hidden from the truth for years and years and it is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system.
He added that the WikiLeaks’ founder had “held the Ecuadorian Embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them.”
Praising Ecuador’s decision to stop his asylum, Mr Hunt added: “President Moreno took a courageous decision which has meant we were able to resolve the situation today.
“We’re not making any judgement about Julian Assange’s innocence or guilt, that is for the courts to decide.
“But what is not acceptable is for someone to escape facing justice and he has tried to do that for a very long time and that is why he is no hero.”
ASSANGE SAGA TIMELINE
Here are the key dates in the long-standing saga involving Wikileaks boss Julian Assange.
- July 2010: Wikileaks releases 720,000 classified files on Afghanistan and Iraq wars
- August 2010: Arrest warrant issued for Assange over rape and molestation allegations in Sweden, which he denies
- December 2010: Assange presents himself to London cops and appears at an extradition hearing
- December 2010: He is later granted conditional bail at the High Court in London after supporters pay £240,000 in cash and sureties
- February 2011: Brit courts rule Assange should be extradited to Sweden
- June 2012: The Wikileaks chief enters Ecuadorian embassy in London requesting political asylum
- June 2012: Just 24 hours later Scotland Yard says he’ll be arrested for breaching bail conditions
- August 2012: Ecuador grants asylum, allowing him to stay in the embassy – where he will remain for the next six and a half years
- August 2012: Assange makes first public appearance on embassy balcony calls for end to US ‘witch hunt’
- September 2014: Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood enjoy a trip to the embassy to meet their pal Assange. They join a long list of celebrity visors to enter the building – including Lady Gaga and Eric Cantona
- February 2016: UN says cooped-up Assange has been ‘arbitrarily detained’ and should claim compo from Britain and Sweden, but both countries ignore ruling
- May 2017: Swedish prosecutors close 7-year sex assault investigation, but Brit cops say they’ll still arrest Assange for breaching bail
- January 2018: Ecuador says it’s trying to find solution to resolve ‘untenable’ situation
- March 2018: Assange’s communications cut off after Ecuador alleges he broke agreement about interfering in other countries’ affairs
- April 2019: Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno says Mr Assange has ‘repeatedly violated’ asylum conditions
- 11 April 2019: Brit cops arrest Assange at embassy after asylum withdrawn and drag him screaming from building
FACING JUSTICE: Assange rape accuser demands case is reopened
ONE of Julian Assange’s rape accusers today demanded Swedish prosecutors re-open the sex assault case against him.
In August 2010, an arrest warrant was issued for Assange for two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation – after he visited Sweden.
The Wikileaks journalist, who denies the allegations, requested political asylum after British courts ruled that he should be extradited to Stockholm.
Sweden later dropped the charges in 2017 – five years after he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy to hide from the allegations.
The reason the case was dropped was because authorities did not believe Assange would be handed over within a reasonable time.
Speaking today, the lawyer of one of the accusers said she hopes the Swedish preliminary investigation against Assange will resume.
Elisabeth Massi Fritz said: “My client and I have just received the news that Assange has been arrested.
“That what we have been waiting for and hoping for almost seven years now, of course, comes as a shock to my client.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that the prosecutors resume the Swedish preliminary investigation so that Assange can be extradited to Sweden and prosecuted for rape.”
It comes after it was revealed blackmailers have allegedly threatened to reveal sex secrets about Assange’s life inside the embassy as part of a £2.6million extortion plot.
Wikileaks chiefs have accused spies of installing hidden cameras to watch Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy.
The editor-in-chief of Wikileaks Kristinn Hrafnsson claimed Assange has been the victim of an “extreme spying operation”.
Immediately after Assange’s arrest, a prankster posted a joke Ecuadorian Ambassador AirBnB ad for a “spare room” with “stains on the wall”.
Scotland Yard confirmed Assange will now appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court at 2pm.
Confirming his arrest, a Met Police spokesman said: “He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain.
“The MPS had a duty to execute the warrant, on behalf of Westminster Magistrates’ Court, and was invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Julian Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States of America.
“He is accused in the United States of America of computer related offences.”
TAKING ITS TOLL: SEVEN YEARS IN HIDING
Pale, heavily bearded and unsteady, Julian Assange cut a very different figure today to the whistle-blower who sought asylum almost seven years ago.
Assange, the enigmatic figure behind the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks website, has become a poster boy for campaigners against state spying and censorship.
To his critics, he is a danger to national security and his work could make him the subject of espionage charges in the US.
The Australian started hacking into networks of the powerful elite when he was part of the “computer underground” in his late teens.
The 47-year-old shot to public attention after founding the pro-transparency website in 2006 as an online library of otherwise secret documents from governments, intelligence agencies, political parties and multinational corporations.
WikiLeaks servers are located all over the world, but the central server is located in an underground nuclear bunker in Stockholm, Sweden.
As the self-styled editor-in-chief of the site, he has overseen the publication of more than 10 million documents and attracted high-profile supporters including Pamela Anderson, novelist Tariq Ali, filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Goldsmith (nee Khan).
He has been quoted as saying: “It is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abusers.”
Among the major leaks since the site’s foundation were battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic communications and a military video showing a US helicopter attack that killed at least 11 men.
Assange has been forced to deny Russian intelligence sources provided a trove of tens of thousands of emails from senior figures within the Democratic National Congress (DNC) during the US election campaign.
He published these alongside thousands of emails from the private server of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, originating from her time as Secretary of State, which the site obtained through freedom of information laws.
Assange, who studied at the University of Melbourne, stood down as editor of Wikileaks in September last year.
For more than a year, doctors have warned of the Australian’s declining health due to the “prolonged uncertainty of indefinite detention”.
A legal defence fund was set up in January amid fears the WikiLeaks founder was under “increasingly serious threat”.