The WikiLeaks founder Assange has been in exile for years, but that came to an abrupt end on 11 April when he was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Service for breaching his bail conditions in December 2010.
He had initially sought refuge in the embassy after fearing potential extradition to Sweden, where he was facing sexual assault and rape charges. Those charges have since been dropped by prosecutors.
His supporters say the UK’s decision to arrest him on a US extradition warrant makes it an accomplice to a repression of freedom of the press. Whether the WikiLeaks project is journalism or not has been a point of debate.
— CNN International (@cnni) April 11, 2019
Ecuadorian President tired of the high profile embassy guest
President of Ecuador Lenín Moreno tweeted (via translation) that “Ecuador sovereignly decided to withdraw the diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange for repeatedly violating international conventions and protocol of coexistence.”
Moreno said the Australian-born WikiLeaks Director had been “discourteous and aggressive” to embassy officials. The Ecuador leader had generally been less sympathetic to Assange’s continued presence in the embassy than his predecessor Rafael Correa. The latter condemned Moreno as the “the greatest traitor in Ecuadorian and Latin American history” for letting the British police into the embassy to arrest Assange, a decision he described as “a crime that humanity will never forget”.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May had welcomed news of the arrest and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the WikiLeaks Founder was “no hero” and had been hiding from the truth for years.
“It’s not so much Julian Assange being held hostage in the Ecuadorean embassy, it’s actually Julian Assange holding the Ecuadorean embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them,” he said.
Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden condemned the arrest. “Images of Ecuador’s ambassador inviting the UK’s secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of – like it or not – award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books,” he wrote. “Assange’s critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.”
Images of Ecuador's ambassador inviting the UK's secret police into the embassy to drag a publisher of–like it or not–award-winning journalism out of the building are going to end up in the history books. Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom. https://t.co/ys1AIdh2FP
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) April 11, 2019
Assange still proving a divisive figure
Economics professor and former Minister of Finance for Greece Janis Varoufakis was another to suggest the arrest was politically motivated. “Julian is in custody for breaching bail conditions imposed over a warrant that was… rescinded,” he wrote on Twitter. “Anyone else would be fined & released. Except that JA’s persecution is all about challenging our right to know about the crimes governments commit in our name.”
Journalist John Pilger said the arrest of Assange represented a “smashing of international law” and was a “(crime) against the most basic natural justice”.
Other progressives said Assange’s legacy was far more complicated. Progressive think tank leader and former Obama aide Neera Tanden wrote: “Assange was the agent of a proto fascist state, Russia, to undermine democracy. That is fascist behaviour.”
A report from CNN also trashed Assange’s claims of objectivity, noting that he had “worked diligently to advance Putin’s goals” and advanced conspiracy theories against Hillary Clinton’s campaign he knew were inventions.
Democrat Mark Warner, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also expressed scepticism towards Assange’s “professed high ideals and moral superiority” and said he hoped he would soon be extradited to the US. “Unfortunately, whatever his intentions when he started WikiLeaks, what he’s really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security.”
President Trump says "I know nothing about WikiLeaks" after Assange's arrest—in contract with 2016 praise https://t.co/Egdb4gHYo0
— TIME (@TIME) April 11, 2019
Trump: “there is something having to do with Julian Assange”
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump said he knew nothing about WikiLeaks. “It’s not my thing and I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I’ve been seeing what’s happened,” Trump said when asked about the arrest.
Trump had previously said that he loved WikiLeaks and applauded the site for disseminating stolen internal communications involving Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Pressed further on the issue, he said he had no opinion.
Former Baywatch star and activist Pamela Anderson, who had visited Assange several times, also weighed in. “How could you UK…You are America’s bitch and you need a diversion from your idiotic Brexit bulls***,” she wrote.