Julian Assange has been arrested inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he took refuge seven years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault. Although that case has since been dropped, Scotland Yard said Thursday that it had arrested the WikiLeaks founder on a 2012 warrant “for failing to surrender” to authorities and that he would appear in court “as soon as is possible.”
The Yard said its officers were invited into the embassy by the Ecuadorean ambassador following the South American government’s withdrawal of asylum for Assange. Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno issued a statement on Twitter saying he had decided to end the diplomatic asylum after Assange “violated, repeatedly, clear-cut provisions of the conventions on diplomatic asylum…despite the fact that he was requested on several occasions to respect and abide by these rules.”
Moreno said Assange had “violated the norm of not intervening in the internal affairs of other states,” citing WikiLeaks’ publication of Vatican documents in January as a recent example. Moreno also accused Assange of having shown “discourteous and aggressive behavior” toward Ecuador by installing electronic and distortion equipment, blocking security cameras, confronting and mistreating guards, and accessing embassy security files without permission.
“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit,” Moreno said.
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WikiLeaks condemned Moreno’s decision, saying that Ecuador had illegally ended Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law” and posting a link for supporters to donate to a legal defense fund for its beleaguered founder. The website accused “powerful actors, including [the] CIA,” of being “engaged in a sophisticated effort to dehumanise, delegitimise and imprison” Assange.
Assange has said that he feared extradition to Sweden would be a pretext for further extradition to the U.S. to face allegations of leaking embarrassing top-secret U.S. documents. Some in the U.S. have called for Assange to be sentenced to death.
An international arrest warrant was issued for Assange in November 2010 on allegations of rape and molestation in Sweden. Assange denied the accusations, surrendered himself to British police and was granted conditional bail. The following year, he lost an appeal to avoid extradition to Sweden, and fled to shelter inside Ecuador’s embassy in June 2012.
British authorities said this put Assange in breach of his bail conditions and that he remained subject to arrest. Although Sweden announced in May 2017 that it was dropping its rape investigation, he has stayed inside the embassy for fear of being extradited to the U.S.
In April 2017, former U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions called Assange’s arrest a “priority.” In a video of his arrest posted on the Internet by the Guardian newspaper, Assange could be heard to say: “The U.K. must resist this attempt by the Trump administration.”
In his statement, Moreno said he had “requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr. Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.” He said the British government had confirmed this in writing.
Alan Duncan, the British government minister for Europe and the Americas, said in a statement that the U.K. was “very grateful” to Ecuador for its decision to end Assange’s asylum. He said the arrest had followed extensive negotiations. “It is absolutely right that Assange will face justice in the proper way in the U.K.,” said Duncan. “It is for the courts to decide what happens next.”
British Home Secretary Sajid Javid added that “no one is above the law.”