Long ago, Julian Assange wore out his welcome at Ecuador’s London embassy. Ecuador shut off his access to the internet in 2016 after Wikileaks published emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign that had been pilfered by Russian hackers. Embassy officials grew weary of what they called his “discourteous and aggressive behavior.” They even griped that he needed to do a better job cleaning up after his cat.
Assange got his eviction notice Thursday. Ecuador formally rescinded the asylum that had allowed him to hide from justice for nearly 7 years. Then, the Ecuadorians invited British police inside to meet Assange and take him away. The Wikileaks founder, 47 and sporting an unruly gray beard, physically resisted and shouted, “This is unlawful!” as officers carried him to a waiting police van. Hope he made arrangements with a cat sitter.
Assange now could be headed for a courtroom in the U.S., where he would face charges that he conspired with Chelsea Manning to hack into a classified Defense Department computer in 2010.
At the time Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, was a U.S. Army intelligence analyst who illegally obtained reams of secret military and diplomatic documents, and then passed them on to Assange’s Wikileaks organization, which published them. Convicted of Espionage Act violations, Manning served 7 years of a 35-year prison term before President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.
Now Assange will have his day in court, something he had deftly evaded for so long.
It wasn’t just U.S. justice that he hid from. Sweden wanted to question him in a sex crimes inquiry but dropped the case in 2017 after deciding there was little chance he would ever leave the embassy. Britain wanted him for skipping bail in 2012, set in connection with the Swedish case.
Soon after Thursday’s arrest, Assange had his first date with justice. He was brought to a London courtroom where he was found guilty of jumping bail. He faces up to a year in prison for that conviction. The U.S. request to extradite Assange is slated to come up in a British court in May.
The world will soon see whether the U.S. case against Assange has merit. Press freedom advocates denounce Assange’s arrest. But there’s an important distinction in the charges Assange faces. They focus on the active role he allegedly played in helping Manning get the documents. It’s one thing to publish secret documents. That’s sometimes part of the legitimate work of journalism. But helping Manning crack a Pentagon password to pilfer the documents, as the indictment alleges, is something different. With Assange protected from America’s reach, the Wikileaks-Russian effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election proceeded.
Ecuador’s decision to hand Assange over had been a long time coming – too long. He was the embassy Guest Who Wouldn’t Leave. Now, finally, Assange has moved on to new lodgings – for the time being courtesy of the British authorities.