London: A British court has found WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange guilty of breaching his bail conditions after the co-founder of the ‘spy’ site was arrested on Thursday. Scotland Yard officers arrested him after the Embassy of Ecuador, where he had taken refuge for the past several years, withdrew the asylum granted to him.
Assange was arrested on a provisional extradition warrant from the United States. He was produced before the Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London where he pleaded not guilty to the charge of failing to surrender.
District Judge Michael Snow ruled that the behaviour of Assange was like that of a “narcissist” who could not “get beyond his own selfish interest”, Assange was guilty of violating the condition of bail, the court said.
Assange has to now appear via videolink on 2 May for a hearing on his extradition that the US has asked for.
The prosecution told the court that, 47-year-old Assange had to be restrained during his arrest at the embassy where he had been hiding for seven years. He shouted, the prosecution complained, “This is unlawful, I am not leaving.”
After the initial arrest of Assange due to a breach of bail conditions in the UK, Scotland Yard said Assange was arrested again on behalf of the US authorities after his arrival at a central London police station on an extradition warrant.
Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed the arrest in the British Parliament. She described it as a “legal matter”. Assange now faces proceedings for extradition to the US on “charges relating to computer offences”. The US has held for long that the Wikileaks’ revelation of the email exchanges between the functionaries of the American government was seriously undermining the country’s security and compromising its diplomatic and strategic interests.
“He has also been arrested in relation to an extradition request from the United States authorities,” May told the Commons in a statement. “This goes to show that in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law,” she said.
Assange, who forced to make a public appearance after years, was dragged out of the Ecuador Embassy earlier today. He appeared visibly aged, sporting a long white beard.
Assange made a thumbs-up sign towards the public gallery as he was produced before the court. He now faces a 12-month sentence in the UK on the charge of failure to surrender. He will remain in judicial custody until he is sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London next month.
The US has sought the extradition of Assange on alleged conspiracy charges related to one of the largest leaks of government secrets.
Earlier on Thursday, the Metropolitan Police officers executed a warrant against Assange dating back to 29 June 2012 for failing to surrender.
The Australian-born campaigner has been holed up in a back room of the Ecuador embassy in central London for nearly seven years since his arrest on sexual assault charges in Sweden.
He had claimed asylum on the grounds that he feared ultimate extradition to the US, where he claims to face a possible death sentence or torture for Wikileaks’ alleged leak of American secrets.
Assange sought refuge at the Ecuador Embassy in Knightsbridge in June 2012, having lost an appeal against extradition to Sweden for questioning on allegations of rape and sexual assault that went up to the UK Supreme Court.
While the Swedish case has since been dropped, Assange was wanted by Scotland Yard for breach of bail and faced arrest the moment he stepped out of the diplomatically immune territory. But once that immunity was lifted, he was taken into custody.
The UK government welcomed the arrest, which it said was the result of extensive dialogue between the UK and Ecuador. A Downing Street spokesperson stressed that the UK did not lobby for his arrest in any way and the decision to revoke asylum was entirely made by Ecuador.
Ecuador’s actions recognise that the UK’s justice system is one in which rights are protected and in which, contrary to what Mr Assange and his supporters may claim, he and his legitimate interests will be protected, UK home secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement to Parliament.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, stressed in his statement that Assange was no hero as he had hidden from the truth for years.
Ecuador’s President, Lenin Moreno, said the country had withdrawn Assange’s asylum after he repeatedly violated the conditions of his asylum.
Wikileaks tweeted that Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Assange’s political asylum “in violation of international law”.
The relationship between Assange and his host country had soured considerably in recent months, resulting in the WikiLeaks co-founder taking legal action against Ecuador last October for allegedly violating his fundamental rights and freedoms. He was placed under a new set of house rules and allowed only limited internet access.
The US authorities have never officially confirmed that they have charged Assange but the criminal charges related to the publication of classified documents were accidentally made public last year.
In December 2017, Ecuador gave Assange citizenship and was reportedly preparing to appoint him to a diplomatic post in Russia, but the British government made clear that if he left the embassy, he would be arrested.
Assange set up Wikileaks in 2006 with the stated aim of obtaining and publishing confidential documents and images. The organisation hit the headlines four years later when it released footage of US soldiers killing civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.
The US Department of Justice said in a statement that the extradition request was in connection with federal charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, relating to the Chelsea Manning revelations. They carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison.