LONDON — British police on Thursday hauled a bearded and shouting Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy where he was holed up for nearly seven years, and the U.S. charged the WikiLeaks founder with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to get their hands on government secrets.
Police arrested Assange after the South American nation revoked the political asylum that had protected him in the embassy, and he was brought before a British court — the first step in an extradition battle that he has vowed to fight.
Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said he decided to evict the 47-year-old Assange from the embassy after “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” and he later lashed out at him during a speech in Quito, calling the Australian native a “spoiled brat” who treated his hosts with disrespect.
In Washington, the U.S. Justice Department accused Assange of conspiring with Manning to break into a classified government computer at the Pentagon. The charge was announced after Assange was taken into custody.
Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was released on bail in Britain while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped. He refused to leave the embassy, fearing arrest and extradition to the U.S. for publishing classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks.
Manning, who served several years in prison for leaking troves of classified documents before her sentence was commuted by then-President Barack Obama, is again in custody in Alexandria, Virginia, for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning’s legal team said the indictment against Assange showed prosecutors didn’t need her testimony and called for her to be released, saying her continued detention would be “purely punitive.”
Over the years, Assange used Ecuador’s embassy as a platform to keep his name before the public, frequently making appearances on its tiny balcony, posing for pictures and reading statements. Even his cat became famous.
But his presence was an embarrassment to U.K. authorities, who for years kept a police presence around the clock outside the embassy, costing taxpayers millions in police overtime. Such surveillance was removed in 2015, but the embassy remained a focal point for his activities.
Video posted online by Ruptly, a news service of Russia Today, showed several men in suits pulling a handcuffed Assange out of the embassy and loading him into a police van while uniformed British police formed a passageway. Assange, who shouted and gestured as he was removed, sported a full beard and slicked-back gray hair.
He later appeared in Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where District Judge Michael Snow wasted no time in finding him guilty of breaching his bail conditions, flatly rejecting his assertion that he had not had a fair hearing and a reasonable excuse for not appearing.
“Mr. Assange’s behavior is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” Snow said. Assange waved to the packed public gallery as he was taken to the cells. His next appearance was set for May 2 via prison video-link in relation to the extradition case.
Assange’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson, said he will fight any extradition to the U.S.
“This sets a dangerous precedent for all journalist and media organizations in Europe and around the world,” she said. “This means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.”