First of all, let us not forget why Julian Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy for a near decade; in 2012 he, Assange, sought refuge with the Ecuadorian authorities when British courts ordered him extradited to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual assault case – think rape, not harassment. At the time Swedish prosecutors called for him to be extradited to Sweden but Assange’s lawyers said that if he were sent to Sweden he would be at risk of then being extradited to the US and so he was granted asylum by the Ecuadorian government on the condition that he never set foot on British ground or he would be directly deported to Sweden. He has been inside the embassy ever since – until this morning at the time of his arrest.
The Ecuadorian government rescinded his asylum status after pressure from the British government and the president of Ecuador Lenín Moreno said that while respecting the right of asylum, Assange had “repeatedly violated international conventions and protocol”, and therefore they could no longer sustain his asylum. In 2016, he was accused of aiding and abetting Russian interference in the U.S. election by publishing over 19,000 stolen documents from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and as recent as January of this year, WikiLeaks released confidential Vatican documents and it was confirmed that Assange was still heavily involved in WikiLeaks despite his asylum status and against its conditions. Julian Assange did not go silently and continued to chant ‘resist’ as he was being carried out of the embassy by authorities, and taken into custody at a central London police station. His arrest has rallied fans all over to proclaim his innocence and heroism on social media platforms but while Assange supporters are up in arms over the arrest, UK authorities are rejoicing and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted this following the arrest:
Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, said on Twitter that her client had been “arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a US extradition request.” Britain’s Home Office also confirmed that Assange “was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States,” where he is “accused . . . of computer-related offences.” The question now is if Julian will be extradited to the United States and what would await him there. During the Obama administration, U.S. authorities had found it difficult to charge him citing the difficult First Amendment issues it could raise given WikiLeaks’s claim to be a journalism organization and the implications it would mean for the free press. However, since Trump took office it has been revealed that Assange has been charged with an unknown crime or crimes by the Justice Department. If he were extradited to the U.S. he would likely be tried on the charge from his disclosure of sensitive US government documents related to the Iraq War in 2010, which were passed to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning and for conspiring to disclose classified information that could be used to injure the United States. However, the US-UK extradition framework is an extremely complicated and Assange will be expected to fight any attempt at it in the British courts. As of right now, his fate lies in the hands of the British authorities but what’s next?