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Assange arrested in London

WikiLeaks founder dragged out of Ecuador embassy by policemen

By Amit Roy in London

  • Published 12.04.19, 1:40 AM
  • Updated 12.04.19, 1:40 AM
Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody on April 11, 2019.
Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody on April 11, 2019. (AP)

What Vijay Mallya and even Nirav Modi have faced in their extradition battles is nothing compared with what Julian Assange experienced on Thursday morning when the bearded WikiLeaks founder was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by seven burly policemen.

The Ecuadorian mission has been his home for nearly seven years since the 47-year-old Australian jumped bail in London and sought refuge inside the embassy on June 19, 2012, to avoid being sent to Sweden, where he was accused of rape.

He also feared being extradited to the US where he now faces either a very long sentence or in theory even the death penalty for allegedly compromising national security by publishing confidential documents.

But in recent weeks, Assange has fallen out with his erstwhile protectors until the Ecuadorian government cancelled his asylum status and its ambassador in London invited Scotland Yard to enter the mission on Thursday morning around 10am and forcibly remove a once-welcome guest.

The Metropolitan Police, which was taking no chances, sent three vans and no fewer than 20 officers. A bewildered and protesting Assange, who appeared to be carrying a copy of Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State, was bundled into one of the vehicles and driven away to appear later at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said his arrest showed “no one is above the law”.

It is reported that Assange caused irritation by not cleaning up after his cat and, more seriously, used his Internet access to engage in political activity.

A statement from Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno, who cancelled Assange’s Ecuadorian citizenship, said: “Today, I announce that the discourteous and aggressive behaviour of Mr Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declaration of its allied organisation, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable.

“Ecuador sovereignly has decided to terminate the diplomatic asylum granted to Mr Assange in 2012.

“When I became the President of Ecuador, I inherited this situation and decided to adopt a protocol to set the daily life rules at the embassy, which is less than anyone may expect from a guest hosted at his own house.”

He claimed that Assange “violated, repeatedly, clear cut provisions of the conventions on diplomatic asylum”.

Assange was held on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court on June 29, 2012, when he failed to surrender to the court.

Scotland Yard made it clear that the police were “invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum”.

The arrest is already proving highly controversial.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “The decision of the Ecuadorian government to hand over Assange to the UK police is a clear violation of his Ecuadorean citizenship and asylum rights. Assange did not leak anything. He published the leaks of Chelsea Manning, as did The Guardian and The New York Times. Why is he being signalled out?

“Assange published evidence of American war crimes. He’s a hero, not a criminal.”

That is not the view of UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who insisted: “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.

“It’s not so much Julian Assange being held hostage in the Ecuadorian embassy, it’s actually Julian Assange holding the Ecuadorian embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them.”

Home secretary Sajid Javid said Assange was “rightly facing justice in the UK. I would like to thank Ecuador for its cooperation…. No one is above the law.”

A Home Office spokesperson confirmed 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 computer-related offences.”

The US justice department charged Assange with conspiring with Manning to break into a classified government computer.

But Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, criticised the arrest as “the hand of ‘democracy’ squeezing the throat of freedom”. Barrister Geoffrey Robertson, one of Assange’s many lawyers, described the arrest as a “disgrace”.

and judged it to be “a breach of international law”.

“America will assure the British government that he won’t face the death penalty. The charges for Julian Assange add up to 45 years, that’s not the death penalty. But it may in effect be the death penalty for someone of Mr Assange’s age and health problems.”

Sweden dropped the rape charges in May 2017 but these might be revived.

Actress Pamela Anderson, who had visited Assange at the embassy, said she was “in shock” and condemned the UK for what she claimed was a “diversion” from the Brexit developments.

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