The country of Ecuador withdrew its political asylum for Julian Assange on Thursday, paving the way for the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest in the United Kingdom and possible extradition to the United States. Assange has lived in the country’s London embassy in since June 2012. On Twitter, Ecuador’s president, Lenín Moreno, said the country could no longer abide Assange’s “discourteous and aggressive” behavior, the “hostile and threatening” declarations made by WikiLeaks, nor his “transgressions of international treaties.”
In addition to publishing nearly 20,000 DNC and Clinton campaign emails believed to have been hacked by Russian operatives in the midst of the 2016 election, Assange reportedly failed to clean up after his cat and skateboarded inside the embassy, increasing tensions with his hosts. (They outlined their expectation for Assange’s conduct in a memo this past fall.)
But Assange’s arrest is not related to any efforts to influence the 2016 election nor, contrary to the fears of press freedom advocates in the U.S., do they appear to be related to his role as a publisher. The WikiLeaks founder was taken into custody on Thursday for skipping bail in 2012 when he was wanted for questioning in connection with sex crimes allegedly committed in Sweden, and separately, for allegedly offering assistance in 2010 to an army private attempting to hack the Defense Department.
Coercion, Sexual Molestation, Rape (Sweden)
Back in 2010, the international public prosecution office in Gothenburg, Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Assange after two women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. The women, who knew each other and Assange, had similar stories of encounters that began consensually but allegedly devolved into coercive and even violent experiences. Swedish police wanted to question the WikiLeaks founder on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion stemming from the incidents with the women, who were referred to by the initials AA and SW. The warrant that was eventually issued detailed four alleged offenses:
- Unlawful coercion – On 13-14 August 2010, in the home of the injured party [AA] in Stockholm, Assange, by using violence, forced the injured party to endure his restricting her freedom of movement. The violence consisted in a firm hold of the injured party’s arms and a forceful spreading of her legs whilst lying on top of her and with his body weight preventing her from moving or shifting.
- Sexual molestation: On 13-14 August 2010, in the home of the injured party [AA] in Stockholm, Assange deliberately molested the injured party by acting in a manner designed to violate her sexual integrity. Assange, who was aware that it was the expressed wish of the injured party and a prerequisite of sexual intercourse that a condom be used, consummated unprotected sexual intercourse with her without her knowledge.
- Sexual molestation: On 18 August 2010 or on any of the days before or after that date, in the home of the injured party [AA] in Stockholm, Assange deliberately molested the injured party by acting in a manner designed to violate her sexual integrity i.e. lying next to her and pressing his naked, erect penis to her body.
- Rape – On 17 August 2010, in the home of the injured party [SW] in Enköping, Assange deliberately consummated sexual intercourse with her by improperly exploiting that she, due to sleep, was in a helpless state. It is an aggravating circumstance that Assange, who was aware that it was the expressed wish of the injured party and a prerequisite of sexual intercourse that a condom be used, still consummated unprotected sexual intercourse with her. The sexual act was designed to violate the injured party’s sexual integrity.
Assange has denied any criminal wrongdoing, though according to police documents reviewed by the Guardian, he admitted to having sex with one of the women, AA. (The documents reviewed did not pertain to the fourth accusation by the woman known as SW.)
In September 2010, after Assange was questioned by police and while the investigation was still underway, he left Sweden for the United Kingdom. Swedish prosecutors say Assange fled after his lawyers were alerted their client was to be arrested the same day. Assange would later claim he was “set up,” suggesting the accusations were part of a U.S. conspiracy to destroy WikiLeaks. His lawyer, Mark Stephens, called the alleged victims “honey pots.”
He remained in the United Kingdom for the next two years, fighting his extradition to Sweden. In June 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court of Great Britain rejected his appeal, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London — where he remained until Thursday.
The Swedish investigation into Assange was “discontinued” in 2017, but not, prosecutors stressed, because they no longer suspected him of a crime, only because they could not formal notify him of the criminal suspicions against him while he remained inside the embassy. Marianne Ny, the director of public prosecution, said at the time, “If he, at a later date, makes himself available, I will be able to decide to resume the investigation immediately.”
On Thursday, it appeared the Swedes were poised to do so. The Swedish Prosecution Authority announced one of the alleged victims had come forward and asked that the case be resumed. “We will now examine the case in order to determine how to proceed,” Eva-Marie Persson, deputy director of public prosecution said in a statement, adding with a note of caution, “The investigation has not yet been resumed, and we do not know today whether it will be.”
She did not give a timetable for a decision; the statute of limitations for the crimes of which Assange is suspected does not run out until 2020.
Failing to Surrender to Court (United Kingdom)
London’s Metropolitan Police entered the Ecuadorian embassy at the invitation of the Ecuadorian ambassador on Thursday. The country withdrew Assange’s asylum “after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols.” He was arrested for failing to surrender to court back in June 2012. He booked at a central London police station before appearing in court, where he was found guilty of skipping bail. Two hours after his arrest, the Metropolitan Police announced that Assange was “further arrested” on behalf of the United States.
Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion (United States)
After news of his arrest broke, the Justice Department confirmed it was seeking Assange’s extradition to U.S. to face a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
In court documents unsealed Thursday, the Department of Justice alleges Assange agreed in 2010 to help former army private Chelsea Manning crack a password stored on Defense Department computers. (According to the indictment, Assange failed in his efforts.) The indictment describes Manning telling Assange, “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replies: “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”
Manning pleaded guilty in February 2013 to violating military regulations. She was released in 2017 after President Obama commuted her sentence. Manning was subpoenaed to testify against Assange in February of this year and was arrested and held in contempt of court when she refused. She remains in custody today.
If convicted, Assange faces up to five years in prison for the single conspiracy count. The DOJ reportedly expects to bring more charges against him. Assange’s lawyers said Thursday they would fight the extradition request.