Open main menu

Indictment and arrest of Julian Assange

Sealed indictment of Julian Assange, returned 6 March 2018, released on 11 April 2019

Julian Assange, was allegedly investigated by the Eastern District of Virginia grand jury for computer-related crimes committed in the U.S. in 2012. His request for asylum was granted and he remained a resident in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012. In 2019, an indictment from 2017 was made public following the termination of his asylum status and the subsequent arrest by the Metropolitan Police of UK in London.[1] According to the indictment, Assange was accused of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in order to help Chelsea Manning gain access to privileged information which he intended to publish on Wikileaks. This is a less serious charge in comparison to those leveled against Manning, and carries a maximum sentence of five years with a possibility of parole.[2]

Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019 by the London Metropolitan Police for failing to appear in court and now faces possible extradition to the US. His arrest caught media attention, and news of it went viral on social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook as it involved the possibility that the founder of Wikileaks and its editor-in-chief would be brought back to the US to face trial. Since his arrest, opinion on social media[by whom?] has been divided as to whether he should be extradited.[original research?] Some[who?] have argued that this is a necessary because he allegedly broke the law by attempting to hack sensitive material about US government operations. Others[who?] have said that such a move would be a threat to freedom of speech, protected by the First Amendment. Assange himself does not consent to extradition to the US, in an ongoing move to prevent this from happening.[3] On May 23, 2019, a grand jury added 17 espionage charges related to his involvement with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, thus bringing a total of 18 federal charges against Assange in the US.[4][5] On 15 July 2019, documents revealed that Assange had used the Ecuadorian embassy to meddle in the 2016 US Presidential election and had met with Russian and various hackers from around the world to do so.[6]



Publication of material from ManningEdit

Assange and some of his friends founded Wikileaks in 2006 and started visiting Europe, Asia, Africa and North America to look for, and publish, secret information concerning companies and governments that they felt should be made public. However, these leaks attracted little interest from law enforcement.[original research?]

In 2010, Assange was contacted by Chelsea Manning, who gave him classified information containing various military operations conducted by the US government abroad. The material included the Baghdad airstrike of 2007, Granai Airstrike of 2009, the Iraq War Logs, Afghan War Diaries, and the Afghan War Logs, among others.[7] Part of these documents were published by Wikileaks and leaked to other major media houses including The Guardian between 2010 and 2011.[8]

Critics of the release included Julia Gillard, then Australian Prime Minister, who said the act was illegal, and the Vice-President of the United States, Joe Biden, who called him a terrorist.[9][10] Others, including Brazilian president Luiz da Silva and Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa supported his actions, while Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said he deserved a Nobel prize for his actions.[11][12] The Manning leaks also led Wikileaks and Julian Assange to receive various accolades and awards,[13] but at the same time attracted police investigations.[citation needed]

Criminal investigation and indictmentEdit

Following the 2010 and 2011 Manning leaks, authorities in the US began investigating Assange and Wikileaks. Specifically, the investigations were being done by the Grand Jury in Alexandria, Virginia as of November 2011.[14] Assange broke bail to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning, and became a fugitive. The Australian government distanced itself from Assange.[15]

He then sought and gained political asylum from Ecuador, granted by Rafael Correa, after visiting the country's embassy in London.[16][17][18]

At the same time, an independent investigation by the FBI was going on regarding Assange's release of the Manning documents,[19] and according to court documents dated May 2014, he was still under active and ongoing investigation.[20] A warrant issued to Google by the district court cited several crimes, including espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and general conspiracy. The indictment continued to remain sealed as of January 2019, although investigations seemed to have intensified as the case neared its statute of limitations.[21]

Arrest by the Metropolitan PoliceEdit

After Assange's asylum was revoked, the Ambassador of Ecuador to the UK invited the Metropolitan Police into the embassy on 11 April 2019. Following this invitation, Assange was arrested and taken to a central London police station.[22] Assange was carrying Gore Vidal's History of the National Security State during his arrest.[23] The news of the arrest went viral on Twitter and Facebook within minutes of its happening and several media outlets reported it as breaking news. President Moreno is quoted to have referred to Assange as a "spoiled brat" in the wake of the arrest.[24]

Assange was arrested in relation to his indictment in Sweden. Specifically, he was arrested for failing to appear in the UK court, which wanted to extradite him to Sweden to answer to sexual charges which were filed against him in 2012.[25] At a hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court a few hours after his arrest, the presiding judge found Assange was guilty of breaching the terms of his bail.[26] On May 1, 2019, Assange was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison.[27]

Reactions to his arrestEdit

Opinions are divided on the question of the arrest of Assange. United Kingdom, a member of Council of Europe, is committed to respecting Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides the right to freedom of expression and information. This is why, several politicians[who?] and associations[who?] consider that the arrest of the whistleblower constitutes an attack on the freedom of expression and international law.[original research?]

The chairman of the Group of the European United Left–Nordic Green Left, Tiny Kox, asked to Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, whether the arrest of Julian Assange and possible extradition to the US are in line with the criteria of European Convention on Human Rights, because Julian Assange can benefit from the protection of the right to freedom of expression and information.[28] Eva Joly, magistrate and MEP, states that "the arrest of Julian Assange is an attack on freedom of expression, international law and right to asylum".[29] Sevim Dagdelen, German Bundestag MP, specialized in international law and press law, describes Assange's arrest as "an attack on independent journalism" and says he "is today seriously endangered".[30][31] Dick Marty, a former Attorney General of Ticino and rapporteur on the CIA's secret prisons for the Council of Europe, considers the arrest of whistleblowers "very shocking".[32][33] Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, believes that "targeting Assange [...] would be a strictly punitive measure and would constitute a dangerous precedent for journalists, their sources and whistle-blowers".[34] British Veterans for Peace UK call British government to "respect the rights of journalists and whistle-blowers and refuse to extradite Julian Assange to the US" and expresses concern "that journalism and whistleblowing is being criminalised by the US and actively supported by British authorities".[35] Amnesty International calls on the UK to "refuse to extradite or send in any other manner Julian Assange to the USA where there is a very real risk that he could face human rights violations, including detention conditions that would violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment and an unfair trial followed by possible execution, due to his work with Wikileaks."[36]

Ecuadorian president Lenín Moreno, the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, U.S. Senator Mark Warner, Hillary Clinton campaign advisor Neera Tanden, and British Prime Minister Theresa May, who commented that "no one is above the law," are in support of the arrest.[37][38] Alternatively, it is has been asserted that such a move would be a threat to freedom of speech as protected by the first amendment to the US Constitution. This view is held by Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, Rafael Correa, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Corbyn, Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, and Glenn Greenwald, who said "it's the criminalization of journalism".[37][39][40][41]

Ecuadorean president Lenín Moreno said in a video posted on Twitter that he "requested Great Britain to guarantee that Mr Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty. The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules."[42] On 14 April 2019, however, Moreno stated in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that no other nation influenced his government's decision to revoke Assange's asylum in the embassy and that Assange did in fact use facilities in the embassy "to interfere in processes of other states."[43][44] Moreno also stated "we can not allow our house, the house that opened its doors, to become a centre for spying" and noted that Assange also had poor hygiene.[43][44] Moreno further stated "We never tried to expel Assange, as some political actors want everyone to believe. Given the constant violations of protocols and threats, political asylum became untenable."[43] On 11 April 2019, Moreno described Assange as a "bad mannered" guest who physically assaulted embassy security guards.[45][46]

According to Amnesty International's Massimo Moratti, if extradited to the United States, Assange may face the "risk of serious human rights violations, namely detention conditions, which could violate the prohibition of torture".[47]

Criticsm of Espionage indictmentEdit

Widespread criticism from the news media and other public advocates ensued following Assange's arrest on Espionage charges. Multiple organizations and journalists criticized Assange's arrest as a journalist citing first amendment claims.

  • New York Times state "Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks leader, has been indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010, the Justice Department announced on Thursday — a novel case that raises profound First Amendment issues."[48]
  • The Guardian said: "By bringing new charges against the WikiLeaks founder, the Trump administration has challenged the first amendment"[49]
  • Edward Snowden said: The Department of Justice just declared war––€”not on Wikileaks, but on journalism itself. This is no longer about Julian Assange: This case will decide the future of media.[50]
  • Huffington Post said: "The charges against the WikiLeaks founder bring up huge First Amendment issues."[51]
  • The Nation said: "The Indictment of Julian Assange Is a Threat to Press Freedom."[52]
  • The ACLU said: "For the first time in the history of our country, the government has brought criminal charges under the Espionage Act against a publisher for the publication of truthful information. This is a direct assault on the First Amendment."[53]
  • Jonathan Turley described the Assange indictment under the Espionage Act of 1917 as "the most important press freedom case in the US in 300 years".[54]

Aftermath of his arrestEdit

Indictments and possible extradition to the USEdit

Immediately following the arrest of Assange, the Eastern District of Virginia grand jury unsealed the indictment it had brought against him. According to the indictment, Assange was accused of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in order to assist Chelsea Manning gaining access to privileged information which he intended to publish on WikiLeaks. This is a less serious charge than those leveled against Manning, and carries a maximum sentence of five years.[55]

Assange was arrested in April after being pushed out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had been living since 2012, avoiding an international arrest warrant, was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison by a British judge on 1st May 2019.[56]

Judge Deborah Taylor said Assange's time in the embassy had cost British taxpayers the equivalent of nearly $21 million, and that he had sought asylum in a "deliberate attempt to delay justice."

Assange offered a written apology in court, claiming that his actions were a response to terrifying circumstances. He said he had been effectively imprisoned in the embassy; two doctors also provided medical evidence of the mental and physical effects of being confined. To which the judge Deborah Taylor said "You were not living under prison conditions, and you could have left at any time to face due process with the rights and protections which the legal system in this country provides".

On 23 May 2019, Assange was indicted, in a superseding indictment, under the Espionage Act of 1917, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for offences relating to the publication of diplomatic cables and other sensitive information.[57] In the past the Act was used to charge Socialist congressman and newspaper editor Victor L. Berger, Emma Goldman and Eugene V. Debs.[54] The May 23 indictment adds 17 federal charges to the earlier federal indictment, thus bringing a total of 18 federal criminal charges against Assange from the US federal government with a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.[5][58][4][59][60] The charges are related to his involvement with Chelsea Manning, a former US Army intelligence analyst who gave Assange classified information concerning matters surrounding the US Defense Department.[4][5]

Revelations about use of Ecuadorian EmbassyEdit

On 15 July 2019, CNN obtained documents from an Ecuadorian intelligence official which confirmed that Assange used the embassy as the command center for Wikileaks.[6] The documents also revealed that during the 2016 election, Assange used the embassy to meet with Russians and world class hackers from different countries.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Megerian, Chris; Boyle, Christina; Wilber, Del Quentin (11 April 2019). "WikiLeaks' Julian Assange faces U.S. hacking charge after dramatic arrest in London". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  2. ^ Sullivan, Eileen; Pérez-Peña, Richard (11 April 2019). "Julian Assange Charged by U.S. With Conspiracy to Hack a Government Computer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Assange 'doesn't consent' to US extradition". 2 May 2019. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^ a b c "Exclusive: Security reports reveal how Assange turned an embassy into a command post for election meddling". CNN. 15 July 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Wikileaks defends Iraq war leaks". BBC. 23 October 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  8. ^ Davies, Nick; Leigh, David (25 July 2010). "Afghanistan war logs: Massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  9. ^ "WikiLeaks acting illegally, says Gillard," Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  10. ^ Ewen MacAskill, "Julian Assange like a hi-tech terrorist, says Joe Biden," The Guardian, 20 December 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  11. ^ "When Wikileaks founder Julian Assange met Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa". The Daily Telegraph. 20 June 2012.
  12. ^ 'Russia: Julian Assange deserves a Nobel Prize' ," The Jerusalem Post, 12 November 2010.
  13. ^ Joel Gunter, "Julian Assange wins Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism,", 2 June 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  14. ^ Glenn Greeenwald, "FBI serves grand jury subpoena likely relating to WikiLeaks". Salon. 27 April 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  15. ^ Dorling, Philip (20 June 2012). "Assange felt 'abandoned' by Australian government after letter from Roxon". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 April 2019. Mr Assange failed last week to persuade the British Supreme Court to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden to be questioned about sexual assault allegations
  16. ^ "Julian Assange asylum bid: ambassador flies into Ecuador for talks with President Correa". The Daily Telegraph (London). 23 June 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  17. ^ "Julian Assange: Ecuador grants WikiLeaks founder asylum", BBC News, 16 August 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  18. ^ "U.K.: WikiLeaks' Assange won't be allowed to leave", CBS News, 16 August 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  19. ^ David Carr and Ravi Somaiya, "Assange, back in news, never left U.S. radar", The New York Times, 24 June 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  20. ^ Philip Dorling, "Assange targeted by FBI probe, US court documents reveal," The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  21. ^ Weiner, Rachel; Nakashima, Ellen (1 March 2019). "Chelsea Manning subpoenaed to testify before grand jury in Julian Assange investigation". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  22. ^ "Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange arrested". BBC. 11 April 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  23. ^ "Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, was holding Gore Vidal book during arrest". USA Today. 11 April 2019.
  24. ^ "Why Ecuador evicted 'spoiled brat' Assange from embassy". NBC News. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  25. ^ "Julian Assange arrested in London: Live updates - CNN". 11 April 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  26. ^ Murphy, Simon (11 April 2019). "Assange branded a 'narcissist' by judge who found him guilty". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  27. ^ Quinn, Ben (1 May 2019). "Julian Assange jailed for 50 weeks for breaching bail in 2012". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  28. ^ "La Convention européenne des droits de l'homme peut-elle empêcher l'extradition de Julian Assange vers les États-Unis ?". L'Humanité (in French). 12 April 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  29. ^ "VIDEO. Eva Joly : "l'arrestation de Julian Assange est une attaque à la liberté de la presse"". Franceinfo (in French). 12 April 2019. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  30. ^ "" Lutter contre l'extradition d'Assange, c'est lutter pour la liberté de la presse "". L'Humanité (in French). 12 April 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  31. ^ "Des parlementaires soutiennent Assange à Londres". VQH (in French). 15 April 2019.
  32. ^ ""Je suis choqué. Assange n'a fait que dire la vérité", clame Dick Marty". (in French). 11 April 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  33. ^ "Dick Marty: "Assange ha solo detto la verità". In Ecuador un nuovo arresto". Ticino Today (in Italian). 12 April 2019.
  34. ^ "Julian Assange arrêté à Londres et inculpé aux Etats-Unis pour avoir « conspiré » avec Chelsea Manning". 11 April 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  35. ^ "JULIAN ASSANGE - VFP UK STATEMENT". Veterans For Peace UK. 12 April 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  36. ^ "UK must not extradite Julian Assange to USA". Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  37. ^ a b "Julian Assange's arrest draws fierce international reaction". Fox News. 11 April 2019.
  38. ^ "World reacts to arrest of WikiLeaks founder of Julian Assange". The CEO Magazine. 12 April 2019.
  39. ^ "Edward Snowden, Rafael Correa Condemn Julian Assange Arrest: 'This Is a Dark Moment for Press Freedom'". Newsweek. 11 April 2019.
  40. ^ "The Assange prosecution threatens modern journalism". The Guardian. 12 April 2019.
  41. ^ "Daniel Ellsberg On Assange Arrest: The Beginning of the End For Press Freedom". The Real News. 11 April 2019.
  42. ^ "UK pledges it won't send Assange to country with death penalty: Ecuador". Reuters. 11 April 2019.
  43. ^ a b c editor, Patrick Wintour Diplomatic (14 April 2019). "Assange tried to use embassy as 'centre for spying', says Ecuador's Moreno". Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  44. ^ a b "Ecuador says Assange used embassy to spy". 15 April 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  45. ^ "'Spoiled Brat' Julian Assange Hit Embassy Guards, Ecuador Says". 4 May 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  46. ^ "'Spoiled Brat' Julian Assange Hit Embassy Guards, Ecuador Says". Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  47. ^ "UK's Labour Party calls for PM to prevent Assange's extradition". Al-Jazeera. 12 April 2019.
  48. ^ "Assange Indicted Under Espionage Act, Raising First Amendment Issues". NYT. 23 May 2019.
  49. ^ "Indicting a journalist? What the new charges against Julian Assange mean for free speech". The Guardian. 23 May 2019.
  50. ^ "Indicting a journalist? What the new charges against Julian Assange mean for free speech". Russia Today. 23 May 2019.
  51. ^ "What Julian Assange's Arrest Means For Freedom Of The Press". Huffington Post. 23 May 2019.
  52. ^ "The Indictment of Julian Assange Is a Threat to Press Freedom". The Nation. 23 May 2019.
  53. ^ "First time in history". The ACLU. 23 May 2019.
  54. ^ a b Turley, Jonathan (24 May 2019). "Viewpoint: What Assange charges could mean for press freedom". BBC. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  55. ^ Sullivan, Eileen; Pérez-Peña, Richard (11 April 2019). "Julian Assange Charged by U.S. With Conspiracy to Hack a Government Computer". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  56. ^ "British Judge Sentences Julian Assange To 50 Weeks In Prison". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  57. ^ Savage, Charlie; Goldman, Adam (23 May 2019). "Assange Indicted Under Espionage Act, Raising First Amendment Issues". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  58. ^
  59. ^
  60. ^ "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange charged with espionage". Sydney Morning Herald. AP, The Washington Post. 24 May 2019. Retrieved 31 May 2019.