Indictment and arrest of Julian Assange

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Julian Assange
Sealed Indictment of Julian Paul Assange returned 6 March 2018 released on 11 April 2019
Julian Paul Hawkins

(1971-07-03) 3 July 1971 (age 47)
Alma mater
  • Editor
  • programmer
  • politician
Years active1987–present
Known forFounding WikiLeaks
Home townMelbourne, Victoria, Australia
TitleDirector and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks
Political party
Criminal statusConvicted of failure to surrender to the court
Under arrest by the Metropolitan Police Service in London under extradition to the United States
Teresa Doe
(m. 1989; div. 1999)
Partner(s)Sarah Harrison
(esp. 2009; sep. 2012)

Australian journalist and founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange was investigated by the Eastern District of Virginia grand jury for several espionage and computer-related crimes committed in the U.S. in 2012. Subsequently, an indictment was issued. The indictment was sealed and initially denied by the government. Attempts to arrest him were foiled when he successfully sought asylum in Ecuador in 2012 while in London. His request was granted and he remained a resident in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012. The indictments remained sealed even when it was requested that it be made public during another trial in 2016. However, in 2019, the indictments were made public, following the termination of his asylum status and the subsequent arrest by the Metropolitan Police of UK in London.[1] According to the indictment, Assange was accused of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in order to help Chelsea Manning gain access to privileged information which he intended to publish on Wikileaks. This is a less serious charge in comparison to those leveled against Manning, and carries a maximum sentence of five years with a possibility of parole.[2]

Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019 by the London Metropolitan Police for failing to appear in court and now faces possible extradition to the US. His arrest caught media attention, and news of it went viral on social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook as it involved the possibility that the founder of Wikileaks and its editor-in-chief would be brought back to the US to face trial. Since his arrest, opinion on social media has been divided as to whether he should be extradited. Some have argued that this is a necessary because he allegedly broke the law by attempting to hack sensitive material about US government operations. Others have said that such a move would be a threat to freedom of speech, protected by the First Amendment.


Publication of material from Manning[edit]

Assange and some of his friends founded Wikileaks in 2006 and started visiting Europe, Asia, Africa and North America to look for, and publish, secret information concerning companies and governments that they felt should be made public. Much of the materials published by Wikileaks between 2006 and 2009 gained media attention and established Assange as a whistleblower.[3] However, these leaks attracted little interest from law enforcement.

In 2010, Assange was contacted by Chelsea Manning, who gave him classified information containing various military operations conducted by the US government abroad. The material included the Baghdad airstrike of 2007, Granai Airstrike of 2009, the Iraq War Logs, Afghan War Diaries, and the Afghan War Logs, among others.[4] Part of these documents were published by Wikileaks and leaked to other major media houses including The Guardian between 2010 and 2011.[5]

The release of the material by Wikileaks was considered both illegal and heroic. Critics included Julia Gillard, then Australian Prime Minister, who said the act was illegal, and the Vice-President of the United States, Joe Biden, who called him a terrorist.[6][7] Others, including Brazilian president Luiz da Silva and Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa supported his actions, while Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said he deserved a Nobel prize for his actions.[8][9] The Manning leaks also led Wikileaks and Julian Assange to receive various accolades and awards,[10] but at the same time attracted police investigations.

Criminal Investigation and indictment[edit]

Following the 2010 and 2011 Manning leaks, authorities in the US began investigating Assange and Wikileaks. Specifically, the investigations were being done by the Grand Jury in Alexandria, Virginia as of November 2011,[11] and by 2012, a leaked email surfaced, which suggested that there was a sealed indictment on Assange,[12] the existence of which the US government denied.[13] Assange broke bail to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning, and became a fugitive. The Australian government distanced itself from Assange.[14]

He then sought and gained political asylum from Ecuador, granted by Rafael Correa, after visiting the country's embassy in London.[15][16][17]

At the same time, an independent investigation by the FBI was going on regarding Assange's release of the Manning documents,[18] and according to court documents dated May 2014, he was still under active and ongoing investigation.[19] A warrant issued to Google by the district court cited several crimes, including espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and general conspiracy. In 2017, it was confirmed that the US government was preparing to formally bring criminal charges against Assange, and by 2018, the existence of these charges were confirmed accidentally. However, the indictment continued to remain sealed as of January 2019, although investigations seemed to have intensified as the case neared its statute of limitations.[20]

Beginning of the end of asylum[edit]

In 2017, Ecuador had a general election and new officials entered the government with a view to terminate the asylum status granted to Assange and hand him over to London's Metropolitan Police. Among other reasons, they argued that the cost of keeping Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy was becoming too expensive. In 2018, it was reported that a total of $5 million had been spent in the five years of his stay, most of which was spent on secret intelligence, undercover agents, and international security. He was also accused of compromising the communication system of the Embassy by setting up his own internet access point.[21] Following his election as president, Lenín Moreno said in 2018 that he wanted Assange out of the Embassy, a move some perceived as aimed at improving foreign relations between Ecuador and the US.[22] Pressure continued to mount when US Foreign Affairs refused to send USAID to Ecuador and limited further economic cooperation between the two countries until Assange was handed over to the UK authorities.[23]

In May 2017, President Moreno met in Quito with former Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort. They talked about removing Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and his extradition to the United States.[24] In June 2018, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and President Moreno spoke about Julian Assange.[25]

On 6 April 2019, Assange was suspected of having been behind leaked photos that linked president Moreno to an INA Papers corruption scandal in Ecuador, which Wikileaks denied.[26][25]

Arrest by the Metropolitan Police[edit]

After Assange's asylum was revoked, the Ambassador of Ecuador to the UK invited the Metropolitan Police into the embassy on 11 April 2019. Following this invitation, Assange was arrested and taken to a central London police station.[27] Assange was carrying Gore Vidal's History of the National Security State during his arrest.[28] The news of the arrest went viral on Twitter and Facebook within minutes of its happening and several media outlets reported it as breaking news. President Moreno is quoted to have referred to Assange as a "spoiled brat" in the wake of the arrest.[29]

Assange was arrested in relation to his indictment in Sweden. Specifically, he was arrested for failing to appear in the UK court, which wanted to extradite him to Sweden to answer to sexual charges which were filed against him in 2012.[30] At a hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court a few hours after his arrest, the presiding judge found Assange was guilty of breaching the terms of his bail. As of April 2019 he is currently awaiting sentencing.[31]

Reactions to his arrest[edit]

Opinions are divided on the question of the arrest of Assange. United Kingdom, a member of Council of Europe, is committed to respecting Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides the right to freedom of expression and information. This is why, several magistrates, politicians and associations consider that the arrest of the whistleblower constitutes an attack on the freedom of expression and international law.

Thus, the chairman of the Group of the Gauche unitaire européenne/Gauche verte nordique, Tiny Kox, asked to Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, whether the arrest of Julian Assange and possible extradition to the US are in line with the criteria of European Convention on Human Rights, because Julian Assange can benefit from the protection of the right to freedom of expression and information [32]. Eva Joly, magistrate and MEP, states that "the arrest of Julian Assange is an attack on freedom of expression, international law and right to asylum".[33] Sevim Dagdelen, German Bundestag MP, specialized in international law and press law, describes Assange's arrest as "an attack on independent journalism" and says he "is today seriously endangered".[34][35] Dick Marty, a former Attorney General of Ticino and rapporteur on the CIA's secret prisons for the Council of Europe, considers the arrest of whistleblowers "very shocking".[36][37] Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, believes that "targeting Assange [...] would be a strictly punitive measure and would constitute a dangerous precedent for journalists, their sources and whistle-blowers".[38] British Veterans for Peace UK call british government to « respect the rights of journalists and whistle-blowers and refuse to extradite Julian Assange to the US » and expresses concern « that journalism and whistleblowing is being criminalised by the US and actively supported by British authorities »[39]. Amnesty International calls on the UK to "refuse to extradite or send in any other manner Julian Assange to the USA where there is a very real risk that he could face human rights violations, including detention conditions that would violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment and an unfair trial followed by possible execution, due to his work with Wikileaks."[40].

Ecuadorian president Lenín Moreno, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, Hillary Clinton campaign advisor Neera Tanden, and British Prime Minister Theresa May, who commented that "no one is above the law," are in support of the arrest.[41][42] Alternatively, it is has been asserted that such a move would be a threat to freedom of speech as protected by the first amendment to the US Constitution. This view is held by Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, Rafael Correa, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Corbyn, Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, and Glenn Greenwald, who said "it's the criminalization of journalism".[41][43][44][45]

Ecuadorean president Lenín Moreno said in a video posted on Twitter that he "requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty. The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules."[46] On 14 April 2019, however, Moreno stated in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that no other nation influenced his government's decision to revoke Assange's asylum in the embassy and that Assange did in fact use facilities in the embassy "to interfere in processes of other states."[47][48] Moreno also stated "we can not allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a centre for spying" and noted that Assange also had poor hygiene.[47][48] Moreno further stated "We never tried to expel Assange, as some political actors want everyone to believe. Given the constant violations of protocols and threats, political asylum became untenable."[47] On 11 April 2019, Moreno described Assange as a "bad mannered" guest who physically assaulted embassy security guards.[49][50]

According to Amnesty International's Massimo Moratti, if extradited to the United States, Assange may face the "risk of serious human rights violations, namely detention conditions, which could violate the prohibition of torture".[51]

Aftermath of his arrest[edit]

Indictments and possible extradition to the US[edit]

Immediately following the arrest of Assange, the Eastern District of Virginia grand jury unsealed the indictment it had brought against him. According to the indictment, Assange was accused of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in order to assist Chelsea Manning gaining access to privileged information which he intended to publish on WikiLeaks. This is a less serious charge than those leveled against Manning, and carries a maximum sentence of five years.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Megerian, Chris; Boyle, Christina; Wilber, Del Quentin (2019-04-11). "WikiLeaks' Julian Assange faces U.S. hacking charge after dramatic arrest in London". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  2. ^ Sullivan, Eileen; Pérez-Peña, Richard (2019-04-11). "Julian Assange Charged by U.S. With Conspiracy to Hack a Government Computer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-11.
  3. ^ Greg Mitchell, The Age of WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond), (New York: Sinclair Books, 2011), ch. 1.
  4. ^ "Wikileaks defends Iraq war leaks". BBC. 23 October 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  5. ^ Davies, Nick; Leigh, David (2010-07-25). "Afghanistan war logs: Massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-04-12.
  6. ^ "WikiLeaks acting illegally, says Gillard," Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  7. ^ Ewen MacAskill, "Julian Assange like a hi-tech terrorist, says Joe Biden," The Guardian, 20 December 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  8. ^ "When Wikileaks founder Julian Assange met Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa". The Daily Telegraph. 20 June 2012.
  9. ^ 'Russia: Julian Assange deserves a Nobel Prize' ," The Jerusalem Post, 12 November 2010.
  10. ^ Joel Gunter, "Julian Assange wins Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism,", 2 June 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  11. ^ Glenn Greeenwald, "FBI serves grand jury subpoena likely relating to WikiLeaks". Salon. 27 April 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  12. ^ "Fw: Assange-Manning Link Not Key to WikiLeaks Case, 2011-01-26," WikiLeaks. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  13. ^ Mark Hosenball, "Despite Assange claims, U.S. has no current case against him", Reuters, 22 August 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  14. ^ Dorling, Philip (20 June 2012). "Assange felt 'abandoned' by Australian government after letter from Roxon". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 April 2019. Mr Assange failed last week to persuade the British Supreme Court to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden to be questioned about sexual assault allegations
  15. ^ "Julian Assange asylum bid: ambassador flies into Ecuador for talks with President Correa". The Daily Telegraph (London). 23 June 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  16. ^ "Julian Assange: Ecuador grants WikiLeaks founder asylum", BBC News, 16 August 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  17. ^ "U.K.: WikiLeaks' Assange won't be allowed to leave", CBS News, 16 August 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  18. ^ David Carr and Ravi Somaiya, "Assange, back in news, never left U.S. radar", The New York Times, 24 June 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  19. ^ Philip Dorling, "Assange targeted by FBI probe, US court documents reveal," The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  20. ^ Weiner, Rachel; Nakashima, Ellen (1 March 2019). "Chelsea Manning subpoenaed to testify before grand jury in Julian Assange investigation". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  21. ^ Collyns, Dan; Kirchgaessner, Stephanie; Harding, Luke (15 May 2018). "Revealed: Ecuador spent millions on spy operation for Julian Assange". The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  22. ^ Long, Guillaume (27 July 2018). "Ecuador's case for Assange's asylum is stronger than ever". Open Democracy. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  23. ^ Quinn, Ben; Collyns, Dan (19 October 2018). "Julian Assange launches legal action against Ecuador". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  24. ^ "Paul Manafort reportedly tried to make a deal with Ecuador to hand over Julian Assange". CNBC. 3 December 2018.
  25. ^ a b "This simmering political clash may have led to Julian Assange's ouster from Ecuador's embassy". Business Insider. 11 April 2019.
  26. ^ Orozco, Jose; Penny, Thomas; Biggs, Stuart. "Ecuador to Expel Assange Within 'Hours to Days,' WikiLeaks Says". Bloomberg. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  27. ^ "Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange arrested". BBC. 11 April 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  28. ^ "Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, was holding Gore Vidal book during arrest". USA Today. April 11, 2019.
  29. ^ "Why Ecuador evicted 'spoiled brat' Assange from embassy". NBC News. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  30. ^ "Julian Assange arrested in London: Live updates - CNN". 11 April 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  31. ^ Murphy, Simon (11 April 2019). "Assange branded a 'narcissist' by judge who found him guilty". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  32. ^ "La Convention européenne des droits de l'homme peut-elle empêcher l'extradition de Julian Assange vers les États-Unis ?". L'Humanité (in French). 2019-04-12. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  33. ^ "VIDEO. Eva Joly : "l'arrestation de Julian Assange est une attaque à la liberté de la presse"". Franceinfo (in French). 2019-04-12. Retrieved 2019-04-13.
  34. ^ "« Lutter contre l'extradition d'Assange, c'est lutter pour la liberté de la presse »". L'Humanité (in French). 2019-04-12. Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  35. ^ "Des parlementaires soutiennent Assange à Londres". VQH (in French). 15 April 2019.
  36. ^ {{Lien web|langue=fr|titre="Je suis choqué. Assange n’a fait que dire la vérité", clame Dick Marty|url=ériodique=%7Cdate=2019-04-11%7Cconsulté le=2019-04-14}
  37. ^ "Dick Marty: "Assange ha solo detto la verità". In Ecuador un nuovo arresto". Ticino Today (in Italian). 12 April 2019.
  38. ^
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  41. ^ a b "Julian Assange's arrest draws fierce international reaction". Fox News. 11 April 2019.
  42. ^ "World reacts to arrest of WikiLeaks founder of Julian Assange". The CEO Magazine. April 12, 2019.
  43. ^ "Edward Snowden, Rafael Correa Condemn Julian Assange Arrest: 'This Is a Dark Moment for Press Freedom'". Newsweek. 11 April 2019.
  44. ^ "The Assange prosecution threatens modern journalism". The Guardian. 12 April 2019.
  45. ^ "Daniel Ellsberg On Assange Arrest: The Beginning of the End For Press Freedom". The Real News. 11 April 2019.
  46. ^ "UK pledges it won't send Assange to country with death penalty: Ecuador". Reuters. April 11, 2019.
  47. ^ a b c
  48. ^ a b
  49. ^
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  51. ^ "UK's Labour Party calls for PM to prevent Assange's extradition". Al-Jazeera. 12 April 2019.
  52. ^ Sullivan, Eileen; Pérez-Peña, Richard (April 11, 2019). "Julian Assange Charged by U.S. With Conspiracy to Hack a Government Computer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 11, 2019.