Five things to know about Julian Assange

The founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012.

Sweden drops rape probe against Assange
Swedish prosecutors dropped probe against Assange on May 19 [File: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA]

When did Julian Assange come to prominence?

Julian Assange first caught the world’s attention when his website, WikiLeaks, in 2007 released leaked manuals for US prison guards at Guantanamo Bay.

But Assange became significantly more prominent in 2010 when he worked with several major news organisations to publish millions of classified diplomatic cables.

In 2016, he caused a storm by releasing emails showing US Democratic Party officials favouring Hillary Clinton over left-winger Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary elections, forcing high-ranking party members to resign.

How is Assange linked to US soldier Chelsea Manning?

Manning handed over 700,000 classified US documents to WikiLeaks. She was given a 35-year prison sentence, which former US president Barack Obama commuted in January.

Manning was freed on May 17.

Why is the Australian whistleblower holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London?

Assange entered the embassy in 2012 to avoid claim asylum and avoid extradition to Sweden over rape accusations stemming from encounters with two women in the Scandinavian country in August 2010.

The 45-year-old Australian has always denied the allegations, which he feared would see him extradited to the US and put on trial over the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents.

Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation on May 19 because they said there was no reason to believe he would be brought to Sweden in the foreseeable future.

What happens now?

British police said they would have to arrest him if he walks out of the embassy on the grounds that he had breached his bail.

The maximum punishment for skipping bail in Britain is one year in jail. However, while the courts process his case, time served while in custody would be deducted.

In theory he could therefore be sentenced to a prison term and then immediately walk free.

Assange could also be extradited to the US if he leaves the embassy. In a Twitter post, WikiLeaks said the UK has refused to comment whether it has received a US warrant to extradite Assange.

Sweden could also resume its case if Assange were to be arrested. Marianne Ny, Sweden’s director of public prosecutions, said the investigation could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before August 2020 when the allegations against him elapse under Swedish law.

Ecudaor has said it is planning to intensify diplomatic efforts with London so that Assange can gain safe passage to his asylum.

Assange is expected to stay put for now in his 18-square-metre room in the Ecuadorian embassy.

What do we know about his background?

The 45-year-old father of two is from Townsville city in the Australian state of Queensland. He was born on July 3, 1971 and had a nomadic childhood, attending 37 schools.

Living in Melbourne in the 1980s and 1990s, he discovered a talent for computer hacking. He was later charged with 30 counts of computer crime, including allegedly hacking police and US military computers.

He admitted most of the charges and walked away with a fine.

Inside Story – Will Julian Assange walk free?

Source: News Agencies