On Thursday, British police arrested Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at Ecuador’s embassy in the British capital, where he had lived for nearly seven years. Wikileaks is an international non-profit organisation that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media provided by anonymous sources.
Who is Julian Paul Assange?
An Australian-born computer hacker who has spent much of his life on the road, Assange, 47, says he is a champion of free speech. He founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and it published secret official information including hundreds of thousands of diplomatic letters, angering the United States and other countries. It was one of the world’s biggest security leaks.
Assange’s supporters see him as a hero who challenges censorship and champions transparency. Others say he risked security by revealing secret documents.
Why was he hiding in Ecuador's embassy in London?
In November 2011, London’s High Court said Assange should be sent to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes after accusations by two former WikiLeaks volunteers in 2010.
After losing an appeal, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 as a way to avoid being extradited. In August of that year he was granted political asylum by the anti-American left-wing former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa.
He remained there after Sweden dropped the investigation against him in 2017 because Assange feared the United States wanted to prosecute him, and he knew that he would still face charges in Britain of “jumping bail” - he had not returned to police to be arrested when the court said he should.
Sweden’s then Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny said in 2017 that the Swedish probe could be reopened should the situation change.
Why did Ecuador change its mind?
In 2017 elections, Correa was replaced as Ecuadorean president by Lenin Moreno. Although he had been Correa’s vice-president for six years, the two fell out and Moreno has since moved Ecuador’s foreign policy to a more US -friendly stance.
He has been openly critical of Assange in recent months, calling him an inherited problem and accusing him of breaking the rules of his asylum.
What secrets did Wikileaks reveal?
In July 2010, WikiLeaks released more than 91,000 documents, most of them secret US military reports about the war in Afghanistan. In October of that year, it released a further 400,000 classified military files about the war in Iraq from 2004 to 2009.
What has Australia said about the arrest?
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was confident Assange would receive fair treatment in Britain. And Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australian TV station ABC that he had no plans to intervene in the case as the charge was a “matter for the United States” and had nothing to do with Australia.
What has Ecuador said since his arrest?
Ecuador’s Moreno said the South American country had done what it needed to under international law and said Assange had repeatedly broken the rules of his asylum, including one which was meant to stop him intervening in the internal matters of other countries.
A leak of Vatican documents in 2019 was the most recent example of Assange breaking that rule, Moreno said in a video posted on Twitter.
Ecuador has “reached the limit of its patience” with Assange, Moreno said, accusing him of installing “electronic distortion equipment”, blocking security cameras, mistreating guards and getting embassy files without permission.
“I requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty,” Moreno said. “The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules.”
What has Britain said since his arrest?
“Julian Assange is no hero. He has hidden from the truth for years and years,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Sky News after the arrest. “It is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system.”
Junior foreign minister Alan Duncan thanked Ecuador for paving the way for Assange’s arrest by withdrawing his asylum after “extensive dialogue” between London and Quito.
What has the US said about his arrest?
As Assange expected, the US has asked for him to be sent there to face charges. US former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says Assange needs to “answer for what he has done”.
He is accused by the US of conspiring with then Bradley Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst, in 2010 to steal US military and diplomatic documents which WikiLeaks went on to publish online. Bradley Manning has since had a sex change and is now known as Chelsea Manning.