Julian Assange’s Arrest, Dark Moment For Press Freedom

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April 13, 2019

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By Countercurrents Staff

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Thursday morning. Julian Assange has been dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has spent the last six years. This happens after Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno withdrew Julian Assange’s asylum.

Video shows Julian Assange being carried out of the Ecuadorian embassy by force, before being shoved into a police vehicle. Assange was heard shouting “…must resist…” before his words are muffled as he was forced into a police vehicle.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has responded to the arrest of Assange in London, tweeting that the images of Ecuadorian authorities handing him over to UK police were a “dark moment for press freedom.”

In the tweet, Snowden said the images of a publisher of “award-winning journalism” being dragged out of the embassy would “end up in history books.”

Snowden wrote: “Assange critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.”

Snowden further said, “important background for journalists covering the arrest of Julian #Assange by Ecuador: the United Nations formally ruled his detention to be arbitrary, a violation of human rights. They have repeatedly issued statements calling for him to walk free–including very recently.”

Veteran journalist John Pilger said, “the action of the British police in literally dragging Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean embassy and the smashing of international law by the Ecuadorean regime in permitting this barbarity are crimes against the most basic natural justice. This is a warning to all journalists. ”

Julian Assange took refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped.

Police said he was arrested for “failing to surrender” to the court.

Lenin Moreno said Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum after his repeated violations of international conventions.

But Wikileaks tweeted that Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”.

Sajid Javid, UK Home Secretary, tweeted: “I can confirm Julian Assange is now in police custody and rightly facing justice.”

Assange was “no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years,” tweeted UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

There has been a long-running dispute between the Ecuadorean authorities and Assange about what he was and was not allowed to do in the embassy.

Over the years, Ecuadorean authorities have removed his access to the internet and accused him of engaging in political activities, which is not allowed when claiming asylum.

Assange will initially face UK legal proceedings but could be extradited to the US over the Wikileaks revelations.

UK foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan said the arrest followed “extensive dialogue between our two countries”.

The arrest comes only a day after WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson claimed that an extensive spying operation was conducted against Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy. During an explosive media conference Hrafnsson alleged that the operation was designed to get Assange extradited.

Assange’s relationship with Ecuadorian officials appeared increasingly strained since the current president came to power in the Latin American country in 2017. His internet connection was cut off in March of last year, with officials saying the move was to stop Assange from “interfering in the affairs of other sovereign states.”

The whistleblower garnered massive international attention in 2010 when WikiLeaks released classified US military footage – “Collateral Murder” – of a US Apache helicopter gunship opening fire on a number of people, killing 12 including two Reuters staff, and injuring two children.

US Army soldier Chelsea Manning leaked the footage, as well as US war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 200,000 diplomatic cables, to the site. Chelsea Manning was tried by a US tribunal and sentenced to 35 years in jail for disclosing the materials.

Manning was pardoned by outgoing President Barack Obama in 2017 after spending seven years in US custody. She is currently being held again in a US jail for refusing to testify before a secret grand jury in a case apparently related to WikiLeaks.

Assange’s stay at the Ecuadorian Embassy was motivated by his concern that he may face similarly harsh and arguably unfair prosecution by the US for his role in publishing troves of classified US documents over the years.

His legal troubles stem from an accusation by two women in Sweden, with both claiming they had a sexual encounter with Assange that was not fully consensual. The whistleblower said the allegations were false. Nevertheless, they yielded to the Swedish authorities who sought his extradition from the UK on “suspicion of rape, three cases of sexual abuse and unlawful compulsion.”

In December 2010, he was arrested in the UK under a European Arrest Warrant and spent time in Wandsworth Prison before being released on bail and put under house arrest.

His attempt to fight extradition ultimately failed. In 2012, he skipped bail and fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy, which extended him protection from arrest by the British authorities. Quito gave him political asylum and later Ecuadorian citizenship.

Assange spent the following years stranded at the diplomatic compound, only making sporadic appearances at the embassy window and in interviews conducted inside. His health has reportedly deteriorated over the years, while treatment options are limited due to his inability to leave the Knightsbridge building.

In 2016, a UN expert panel ruled that what was happening to Assange amounted to arbitrary detention by the British authorities. London nevertheless refused to revoke his arrest warrant for skipping bail. Sweden dropped the investigation against Assange in 2017, although Swedish prosecutors indicated it may be resumed if Assange “makes himself available.”

Assange argued that his avoidance of European law enforcement was necessary to protect him from extradition to the US, where then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that arresting him is a “priority.”

WikiLeaks was branded a “non-state hostile intelligence service” by the then-CIA head Mike Pompeo in 2017.

The US government has been tight-lipped on whether Assange would face indictment over the dissemination of classified material. In November 2018, the existence of a secret indictment targeting Assange was seemingly unintentionally confirmed in a US court filing for an unrelated case.

Last year, a UK tribunal refused to release key details on communications between British and Swedish authorities that could have revealed any dealings between the UK, Sweden, the US, and Ecuador in the long-running Assange debacle. La Repubblica journalist Stefania Maurizi had her appeal to obtain documents held by the Crown Prosecution Service dismissed on December 12.

A Kremlin spokesperson has said that Julian Assange should be treated properly, “Undoubtedly, we hope that all his rights will be respected,” Dmitry Peskov told journalists when asked if Russia could grant asylum to Julian Assange.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno the UK should ensure that he is not extradited to a country where he may face inhumane treatment or capital punishment.

Some observers, however, said the carefully worded statement by Moreno does not rule out Assange being extradited to the US.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks itself blamed “powerful actors”, such as the CIA, for running a “sophisticated” campaign to scapegoat Assange.

Meanwhile, former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa (who granted asylum to Assange) labeled Moreno a “traitor” following the arrest.

11 April 2019

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