Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested by British police on Thursday after they were invited into the Ecuadorean embassy where he has been evading the authorities since 2012.
“Julian Assange, 47, has today, Thursday 11 April, been arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) at the Embassy of Ecuador,” police said.
Police said they arrested Assange after being “invited into the embassy by the Ambassador, following the Ecuadorean government’s withdrawal of asylum.”
Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. That probe was later dropped, but Assange fears he could be extradited to face charges in the United States, where federal prosecutors are investigating WikiLeaks.
Assange was taken into custody at a central London police station and he will be brought before Westminster Magistrates’ Court, police said.
The British Minister of State for Europe and the Americas Sir Alan Duncan said that it is “absolutely right that Assange will face justice in the proper way in the UK. It is for the courts to decide what happens next.”
He added that the British government is “very grateful to the Government of Ecuador under President Moreno for the action they have taken.
“Today’s events follow extensive dialogue between our two countries.”
Assange’s relationship with his hosts disintegrated after Ecuador accused him of leaking information about President Lenin Moreno’s personal life. Moreno had previously said Assange has violated the terms of his asylum.
Moreno said that he had asked Britain to guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.
“The British government has confirmed it in writing, in accordance with its own rules,” Moreno said.
WikiLeaks said Ecuador had illegally terminated Assange’s political asylum in violation of international law.
Speaking to media earlier today British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that Assange’s arrest has shown that no one is above the law, and that he “has hidden from the truth for years and years and it is right that his future should be decided in the British judicial system.”
He added that Assange has actually been “holding the Ecuadorian Embassy hostage in a situation that was absolutely intolerable for them.”
“We’re not making any judgement about Julian Assange’s innocence or guilt, that is for the courts to decide. But what is not acceptable is for someone to escape facing justice and he has tried to do that for a very long time and that is why he is no hero.”
In Washington, the US Justice Department accused Assange with conspiring with Chelsea Manning to break into a classified government computer at the Pentagon. The charge was announced after Assange was taken into custody.
His lawyer has previously said that Assange planned to fight any US charges against him.
British police said Thursday that Assange had been arrested for breaching his bail conditions in Britain and in relation to the US arrest request.
Assange for years has been under US Justice Department scrutiny for years for WikiLeaks’ role in publishing thousands of government secrets. He was an important figure in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails that were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic groups.
Assange had not come out of the embassy in London for almost seven years because he feared arrest and extradition to the United States for publishing classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks. Although Sweden has dropped the sexual assault case that first led to Assange’s arrest in Britain, UK authorities said he would be rearrested if he ever left the embassy because he skipped bail in the original case.
A video posted online by Ruptly, a news service of Russia Today, showed several men in suits around Assange, pulling him out of the embassy building and loading him into a police van Thursday while uniformed British police officers formed a passageway. Assange sported a full beard and slicked-back grey hair.
The WikiLeaks founder entered an innocent plea to a charge that he failed to surrender to custody under an order for his extradition to Sweden on Thursday at Westminster Magistrates Court.
To some, Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. But to others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined the security of the United States.