Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, was arrested on Thursday inside Ecuador’s Embassy in London, where he had lived since 2012 under diplomatic protection. London’s Metropolitan Police service said in a statement its officers were “invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.”
Video of Assange being dragged from the embassy was captured on a live stream set up by Ruptly, a Russian government news agency.
Assange’s lawyer, Jen Robinson, tweeted that he had been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions in the United Kingdom, but also in relation to an American extradition request.
Assange, 47, will be held at a central London police station until an appearance at Westminster Magistrates’ Court can be arranged, the police said. The force explained that it was acting on a warrant issued by that court after Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012, violating bail conditions by not attending a hearing on his attempt to resist extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning on sexual assault allegations.
In May 2017, Swedish prosecutors announced they were closing their investigation into the sexual assault allegations in light of Assange’s asylum and the time that had elapsed.
Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, released a video statement explaining his decision to withdraw the diplomatic asylum granted to Assange by his predecessor, accusing Assange of “discourteous and aggressive behavior,” “hostile and threatening declarations against Ecuador and especially the transgression of international treaties.”
“He particularly violated the norm or not intervening in the internal affairs of other states,” Moreno added.
Moreno also said that British authorities had offered him a guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could be tortured or face the death penalty. That seemed like a clear reference to the United States, where, the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia accidentally revealed in November that it had filed a secret indictment charging Assange with crimes related to Wikileaks disclosures.
Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who was convicted of leaking military and diplomatic files to Wikileaks before having her sentence commuted by former President Barack Obama, is currently in jail for refusing to testify about her decision in 2010.
Wikileaks has claimed in recent weeks that Ecuador had turned against Assange because of what Moreno took to be Assange’s part in the alleged hacking of his own phone.
Last week, after private photographs of Moreno and his family were posted online, the president told the Ecuadorean Radio Broadcasters’ Association that Assange did not have the right to “hack private accounts or phones” while enjoying diplomatic asylum.
Although Moreno did not directly connect Assange to that leak, Reuters reported that his government said it believed the photos were shared by WikiLeaks.
Sweden’s Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren said in a statement the arrest “is news to us too, so we have not been able to take a position on the information that is now available. We also do not know why he is under arrest.”
Assange’s arrest was condemned by many supporters, including Edward Snowden, who reminded journalists that the United Nations had “formally ruled his detention to be arbitrary, a violation of human rights.”
Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum, denounced the decision:
The greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history, Lenin Moreno, allowed the British police to enter our embassy in London to arrest Assange.
Moreno is a corrupt man, but what he has done is a crime that humanity will never forget.
“Julian Assange is no hero. He has hidden from the truth for years and years,” the U.K. foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told the BBC. “It’s not so much Julian Assange being held hostage in the Ecuadorean Embassy, it’s actually Julian Assange holding the Ecuadorean Embassy hostage, in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them.”
“This will now be decided properly, independently by the British legal system, respected throughout the world for its independence and integrity,” Hunt added.