Julian Assange arrested after U.S. extradition request, charged with hacking government computer

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested by British police on Thursday in the Ecuadorian Embassy where he’d been holed up since 2012 after the United States requested his extradition, London police say.

London police confirmed Assange was arrested “on behalf of the United States,” which requested Assange’s extradition, as well as for breaching British bail conditions.

U.S. prosecutors said they have charged Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified U.S. government computer with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

The U.S. indictment accuses Assange of assisting Manning in cracking a password that helped the former intelligence analyst infiltrate Pentagon computers.

Assange faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

Video posted online by Ruptly, part of Russia Today, shows Assange being escorted out of the embassy:

On Thursday, Assange was found guilty at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court of skipping bail in 2012 after an extradition order to Sweden over an allegation of rape. Assange, who pleaded not guilty, will be sentenced at a later date when he will face a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison for the offence.

Judge Michael Snow said Assange will appear again before the court on the extradition matter June 12.

During a brief news conference outside the court, Assange’s lawyers said they will be contesting and fighting extradition to the U.S., and they also requested medical treatment for their client.

Diplomatic asylum withdrawn

In a statement earlier Thursday, London police said they arrested Assange after being “invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.”

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said Assange’s diplomatic asylum was withdrawn for repeated violations of international conventions. Ecuador received a guarantee from Britain that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face the death penalty, Moreno said.

Ecuador’s foreign minister also announced that Assange’s Ecuadorian citizenship was suspended.

Assange took refuge in the embassy to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. That probe was later dropped, but Sweden’s prosecution authority said Thursday the legal counsel of the alleged victim has requested that the preliminary investigation be reopened. That request has been assigned to a prosecutor who will determine how to proceed.

Assange hadn’t left the embassy since August 2012 for fear that if he steps off Ecuador’s diplomatic soil he will be arrested and extradited to the U.S. for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.

Assange’s relationship with his hosts collapsed after Ecuador accused him of leaking information about Moreno’s personal life. Moreno had previously said Assange has violated the terms of his asylum.

Snowden calls arrest a ‘dark moment’

Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden called Assange’s arrest a “dark moment for press freedom” and said it contravened a call by the United Nations to allow him to walk free.

WikiLeaks said Ecuador had illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum in violation of international law.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said Assange’s arrest shows that “no one is above the law.” May was speaking to the House of Commons after the arrest of the WikiLeaks founder.

Russia criticized the way in which London police arrested Assange. Foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the way he was treated gave “the full impression of an open and rude disregard for the human dignity of the arrested.”

Zakharova said Russia hopes “all the rights of Julian Assange will be respected.”

Ben Wizner, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, said any prosecution of Assange for WikiLeaks’ publishing operations by the U.S. would be “unprecedented and unconstitutional” and that it would “open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”

London police later confirmed Assange was arrested ‘on behalf of the United States.’ (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

“Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest,” Wizner said in a statement.

A UN human rights expert will ask Britain to let him meet Assange to assess his claims that his privacy has been violated.

Joe Cannataci, UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy, also said in a statement he planned to ask a Spanish magistrate for access to what he called “fresh new evidence of violations of Mr. Assange’s privacy” that he may have.

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