Julian Assange timeline: A criminal or a hero?

The WikiLeaks founder is free after years-long legal battle that has stirred debate around the world on press freedom.

Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been freed from prison in the UK and is set to travel home to Australia after he agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of breaching the espionage law in the US [File: Frank Augstein/AP]

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been set free after fighting a long-running legal battle against extradition to the United States, where he could have been jailed for life on espionage charges.

Here are some key events and details in his life to date:

July 1971 – Assange is born in Townsville, Australia, to parents involved in theatre. As a teenager, he gains a reputation as a computer programmer.

1995 – Assange is fined for computer hacking but avoids prison on condition he does not offend again.

2006 – Founds WikiLeaks, creating an internet-based “dead letter drop” for leakers of classified or sensitive information.

April 2010 – WikiLeaks releases leaked video showing a US military helicopter gunning down 11 civilians, including two journalists, during the Iraq war. The Apache crew then fire on a van that tries to rescue the injured. The footage gave the world a glimpse into how the United States was conducting its war, triggering a media storm.

July 2010 – WikiLeaks releases more than 91,000 documents, mostly secret US military reports about the Afghanistan war.

August 2010 – Swedish prosecutors issue an arrest warrant for Assange based on one woman’s allegation of rape and another’s allegation of molestation. The warrant is withdrawn shortly afterwards, with prosecutors citing insufficient evidence for the rape allegation. Assange denies the allegations.

September 2010 – Sweden’s director of prosecutions reopens the rape investigation. Assange leaves Sweden for the United Kingdom.

October 2010 – WikiLeaks releases 400,000 classified military files chronicling the Iraq war. The next month, it releases thousands of US diplomatic cables, including candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats.

November 2010 – A Swedish court orders Assange’s arrest over rape allegations, which he denies. He is arrested in the UK the next month on a European arrest warrant but freed on bail.

December 2010 – Assange surrenders to police in London and is detained pending an extradition hearing. The High Court of Justice in London grants Assange bail.

February 2011 – London’s Westminster Magistrates Court orders Assange’s extradition to Sweden. He appeals.

June 2012 – The British Supreme Court rejects Assange’s final appeal and five days later he takes refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London and seeks political asylum, which Ecuador grants in August 2012. The asylum status allows him to stay legally in the embassy — and in theory, to live in Ecuador.

July 2014 – Assange loses his bid to have the Swedish arrest warrant issued against him cancelled. A judge in Stockholm upholds the warrant alleging sexual offences against two women.

August 2015 – Swedish prosecutors drop investigations into some allegations against Assange because of the statute of limitations; an investigation into a rape allegation remains active.

October 2015 – The Metropolitan Police end their 24-hour guard outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London but say they will arrest Assange if he leaves, ending a three-year police operation estimated to have cost millions. In essence, this means that Assange cannot fly to Ecuador, where he has asylum.

April 2017 – Mike Pompeo, then CIA chief, describes WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”.

May 2017 – Swedish prosecutors discontinue their investigation, saying it is impossible to proceed while Assange is in the Ecuadorean embassy.

April 2019 – Assange is carried out of the embassy and arrested after Ecuador revokes his political asylum.

May 2019 – He is sentenced to 50 weeks in prison by a British court for skipping bail. He completes the sentence early but remains jailed pending extradition hearings. Separately, Swedish prosecutors reopen their investigation and say they will seek Assange’s extradition to Sweden.

June 2019 – The US Department of Justice formally asks the UK to extradite Assange to the US to face charges that he conspired to hack US government computers and violated an espionage law.

November 2019 – Swedish prosecutors drop their rape investigation, saying the evidence is not strong enough to bring charges, in part because of the passage of time.

February 2020 – A London court begins the first part of extradition hearings which are adjourned after a week. The hearings are supposed to resume in May but are delayed until September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

January 2021 – At the Old Bailey in London, Judge Vanessa Baraitser concludes it would be “oppressive” to extradite him to the US because of his frail mental health, saying there was a real risk he would take his own life. However, Judge Baraitser denies Assange bail at a London court, saying he is a flight risk.

July 2021 – The High Court grants the US government permission to appeal the lower court’s ruling blocking Assange’s extradition.

July 2021 – Ecuador formally revokes the Australian’s citizenship after Ecuadorian authorities said the letter supporting his naturalisation had multiple inconsistencies, different signatures, the possible alteration of documents and unpaid fees, among other issues.

December 2021 – The High Court in the UK rules that the US assurances about Assange’s detention are enough to guarantee he would be treated humanely.

March 2022 – Britain’s Supreme Court refuses to grant Assange permission to appeal against his extradition.

June 2022 – Britain’s government orders the extradition of Assange to the US. Assange appeals.

May 2023 – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says Assange should be released and “nothing is served” by his ongoing incarceration.

June 2023 – A High Court judge rules Assange cannot appeal his extradition.

February 2024 – Assange’s lawyers launch a final legal bid to stop his extradition at the High Court.

March 2024 – Two High Court judges in London give US authorities three weeks to submit further assurances, including a guarantee that Assange will not get the death penalty, before deciding whether they will grant him a chance to appeal afresh against his extradition.

May 2024 – The two British judges rule that Assange can mount a new appeal based on arguments about whether he will receive free-speech protections or be at a disadvantage because he is not a US citizen.

June 2024 – The US Justice Department says in a letter filed in court that, under a deal with the agency, Assange will be allowed to walk free in return for pleading guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defence information.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies