Less than a decade ago, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had media outlets eating out of his hand and governments with secrets to hide on high alert. Now, he's at the mercy of an Ecuadorian government that's running out of patience - and he may be running out of time.

It's been more than six years since Assange was granted asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. An investigation into sexual assault-related allegations made by two women in Sweden has long since been dropped. However, British police say Assange will be arrested the moment he steps out of the embassy - for breach of bail by failing to surrender on June 29, 2012, for extradition to Sweden.

Last week, court papers filed in the United States, in a case completely unrelated to Assange, contained a paragraph confirming that a secret indictment had been filed against him. Prosecutors called it an administrative mistake, meaning a supposed clerical error.

"There's nothing like a cock-up to make the truth come to light. So, there was a filing on a completely unrelated and not very high profile case in the Eastern District of Virginia and they had copy and pasted a section from another indictment, and so this indictment about some totally random guy ended up mentioning Julian Assange," says James Ball, author of WikiLeaks: News in the Networked Era.

"What they haven't said is what the charges are and what period of WikiLeaks activity they relate to," he adds.

It seemed to confirm something that Assange had always feared but the US Department of Justice never admitted: It wants him in jail.

They cannot kill Julian Assange. So all they can do is use legal cases  ... against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which they have done.

Stefania Maurizi, investigative reporter, La Repubblica

The clerical error took place at a court in Alexandria, Virginia, right next door to Washington, where a grand jury has reportedly been investigating Julian Assange since 2010.

Back then, WikiLeaks was in its heyday. The Iraq and Afghan war logs revealed brutal truths about those invasions, confirming war crimes previously denied by the Pentagon. And the Diplomatic Cables would later expose the US's duplicity in its dealings with foreign governments. 

Challenging powerful institutions comes at a price, says Glenn Greenwald. "There was actually a 2008 US Army report that described WikiLeaks as an enemy of the state and talked about different ways to destroy the organisation. And we can read about that document because ironically it got leaked to WikiLeaks which then published it on its own website."

All the measures to discredit Assange are meant to punish him and serve as a deterrent for others, according to Stefania Maurizi, an investigative journalist who has probed how the Assange case has been conducted, in both Sweden and the UK.

"They fear a domino effect, they realise that inside the US intelligence community there are many people who have seen all sorts of abuses. They are terrified that there could be a hundred Chelsea Mannings, a thousand Edward Snowdens. They cannot kill Julian Assange. So all they can do is use legal cases ... against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, which they have done."

Maurizi calls Assange's situation "a legal and diplomatic quagmire". It's a standoff the United Nations calls a case of arbitrary detention, a denial of Assange's human rights.

The Ecuadorean president who granted him asylum, Rafael Correa, has been succeeded by Lenin Moreno, who wants better relations with Washington. The new government hasn't evicted Assange, but his internet connection and his communication with the outside world are controlled by the embassy.

Many of the news outlets that once feasted on the material that he handed to them on a plate have turned against him.

And with his health reportedly failing, Assange cannot even go to a hospital for fear of being arrested.

"Whatever you think of Julian, whatever you think of WikiLeaks, what has been done to him over the last six to seven years is a very sustained serious and deliberate violation of his basic liberties. And yet that has been almost entirely disregarded by the western media," says Greenwald.

Contributors

Eric Alterman - media columnist, The Nation

Glenn Greenwald - cofounder, The Intercept

James Ball - author, WikiLeaks: News in the Networked Era/ contributor, The Guardian

Stefania Maurizi - investigative reporter, La Repubblica

Source: Al Jazeera