Julian Assange arrested in London: UK police

WikiLeaks founder is in UK police custody after Ecuadorean government withdrew his asylum status.

    Assange is accused of violating bail in the UK and is wanted by US authorities [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]
    Assange is accused of violating bail in the UK and is wanted by US authorities [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

    British police have arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had been living in Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012 to avoid arrest and extradition. 

    Police in the UK capital on Thursday said they arrested the Australian national after being "invited into the embassy by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorean government's withdrawal of asylum".

    Footage appeared to show police dragging a bearded Assange from the embassy and putting him into a police van. 

    In a statement on Thursday, London's Metropolitan Police said Assange had been "taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as is possible". 

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    Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from outside the court where Assange's hearing took place later on Thursday, said that as well as being arrested for the charge of skipping bail, Assange had been "further arrested" for charges he faces in the United States.

    Assange pleaded not guilty to the charge of breaking the terms of his bail, but was convicted. He will be sentenced at a later date when he will face a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison for the offence.

    He is due to appear in court via video link on the issue of extradition to the US on May 2.

    The Swedish judiciary has dropped its investigation into accusations of rape against Assange, but British authorities had said they would still arrest him if he left the embassy because he violated his bail conditions by fleeing arrest in 2012.

    Assange says he fears being extradited to the US where he could face charges relating to the publication of hacked government documents on the wars in  Afghanistan and Iraq.

    WikiLeaks, a non-profit that publishes secret information has fallen foul of various governments. Assange, who always denied the rape allegations against him, has previously suggested charges against him are politically motivated. 

    'Discourteous and aggressive behaviour'

    Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno said in a video posted to Twitter that he had revoked Assange's asylum because of his "discourteous and aggressive behaviour".

    Moreno said he believed Assange was still working with WikiLeaks and was "therefore involved in interfering in international affairs of other states".

    He also accused Assange of installing banned "electronic and distortion equipment" in the embassy, blocking the building's security cameras, mistreating guards and accessing the embassy's security files without permission.

    "The asylum of Mr Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable ... after his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols," Moreno said.

    Moreno said it was his country's sovereign right to terminate the diplomatic asylum previously granted to Assange and that "Ecuador has fulfilled its obligations in the framework of international law."

    The president said he requested that Great Britain guarantee that "Mr Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty," adding that the British government had confirmed it would not do so in writing.

    Wikileaks directly contradicted Moreno on Thursday, saying Ecuador's actions were "illegal".

    "Ecuador has illegally terminated Assange's political asylum in violation of international law," Wikileaks said on Twitter, adding that the ambassador "invited British police into the embassy and he was immediately arrested".

    US charges

    Later on Thursday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said Assange's arrest was in connection with a federal charge of "conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to classified US government computer".

    According to court documents, the charge relates to Assange's alleged role in one of the "largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States".

    The indictment alleges that in March 2010 Assange engaged in "a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning" to assist the former US army intelligence analyst  in "cracking a password" stored at the US Department of Defense computers connected with a government network used for classified documents and communications.

    Manning has served seven years in prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.

    "During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning's transmission of classified records to Assange," the DOJ said in a statement.

    "The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information," the DOJ added. "During an exchange, Manning told Assange that 'after this upload, that's all I really have got left.' To which Assange replied, "curious eyes never run dry in my experience". 

    If convicted in the US, Assange can face up to five years in prison. 

    Removal predicted

    Six days ago, Wikileaks predicted that Assange would be expelled from the embassy.

    Moreno had accused Assange of repeatedly violating the terms of his asylum and said the government was seeking an arrangement with the UK to allow Assange to leave the embassy.

    Ecuador also suspects that WikiLeaks is responsible for sharing private photographs of Moreno on social media recently.

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    In the video posted to Twitter on Thursday, Moreno accused WikiLeaks of having threatened the government of Ecuador. 

    Al Jazeera's Challands said Assange's relationship with his hosts had been souring for several years.

    "He's been in that embassy for seven years and over that time things have got worse and worse. In March, they cut off his internet access and said that the couldn't have any visitors anymore.

    "Essentially, it's become a bit of a beef between WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and the Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno," Challands said.

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    Ecuador accuses WikiLeaks of publishing the INA Papers, a trove of documents containing allegations that Moreno benefitted from an offshore account in Panama. 

    "The Ecuadorians have said that what Assange was doing was breaking the terms of his asylum but it seems like these INA Papers were the straw that broke the camel's back and finally made them decide they were going to hand him over to the British authorities," Challands said. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies