UK Court Convicts Julian Assange of Skipping Bail in 2012

Julian Assange gestures Thursday as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London. Police in London arrested the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorean embassy Thursday for failing to surrender to the court in 2012, shortly after the South American nation revoked his asylum. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

(CN) – Wasting little time after the WikiLeaks founder’s arrest this morning, a London judge found Julian Assange guilty Thursday of breaching his bail conditions.

“Mr. Assange’s behavior is that of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests,” said District Judge Michael Snow of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. “He hasn’t come close to establishing ‘reasonable excuse.'”

The 47-year-old Assange was arrested and spirited over to the London court today on a 2012 warrant after the Ecuadorean government canceled the citizenship and asylum it had granted to him some seven years ago.

At the time, Assange was wanted in Sweden after two women there accused him of sexual molestation and rape. Claiming that the Swedish government would promptly hand him over to the United States — which was conducting its own investigation of classified materials published by WikiLeaks — Assange took up residency at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

After his arrest today, television images showed Assange sporting a white beard and shouting, “You must resist, you can resist.” Hours later, he waved to supporters in the packed courtroom where Judge Snow flatly rejected Assange’s assertions that he had been denied a fair hearing.

Across the pond meanwhile, U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia that accuses Assange of playing a role in “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”

Assange has vowed to fight extradition to the United States, where he is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and faces a maximum of five years in prison. His next court appearance is set for May 2 via prison video-link in relation to the extradition case.

A hero for many free speech advocates, the Australian-born internet activist has long been viewed as a scourge by U.S. officials. His nonprofit WikiLeaks was behind the release of millions of pages of documents related to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, detentions at Guantanamo Bay, and Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The indictment alleges that Assange conspired in March 2010 with Chelsea Manning, who at the time was an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army, to break a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers that could access a classified network. Breaking the password meant Manning could log in under a different username, making the leak harder to trace to her, the indictment says.

Before the password conspiracy, prosecutors say, Manning had already provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified records about the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Assange “knowingly” received with the intent to publish them.  

During one exchange, prosecutors allege, Manning, who had a top-secret security clearance, told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.”  

“Curious eyes never run dry in my experience,” Assange reportedly replied.

Manning was convicted in 2013 of violating the Espionage Act. Former President Barack Obama commuted her sentence just before he left office in January 2017.

A year later, the U.S. Department of Justice accidentally revealed there was a sealed criminal filing against Assange.

Relations between Assange and Ecuador have been strained for months, with WikiLeaks accusing Ecuador of spying on Assange and violating his human rights by placing him in solitary confinement. Ecuador cut off Assange’s internet access in the embassy over a year ago.

In a televised statement Thursday, Ecuador President Lenin Moreno said the country was withdrawing Ecuadorean citizenship because Assange had violated the terms of his political asylum by “interfering in internal affairs of other states” while in the embassy.

Moreno, who took power last spring and has developed close ties with the U.S., accused Assange of being involved in the recent leak of Vatican documents by WikiLeaks. He also accused Assange of blocking security cameras in the embassy and installing electronic and distortion equipment that was not allowed.

“The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behavior of Mr. Assange,” Moreno said. He added that Assange had “confronted and mistreated guards” at the embassy.

Moreno said Great Britain has guaranteed to him that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty.

WikiLeaks meanwhile said Thursday that the termination of Assange’s asylum was illegal. Geoffrey Robertson, one of Assange’s lawyers, called his arrest a “breach of international law.”

“Ecuador will be blackballed from international society for doing this,” Robertson said on BBC News. “You can’t give someone asylum for seven years and then hand them over, which is what Ecuador has done.”

Barry Pollack, a U.S. attorney for Assange, echoed this sentiment in a statement posted to WikiLeaks’ Twitter account.

“It is bitterly disappointing that a country would allow someone to whom it has extended citizenship and asylum to be arrested in its embassy,” Pollack said.

The lawyer called for the U.K. to give Assange “access to proper health care,” something he said Assange has not had during his hideout.

In a press conference Wednesday, WikiLeaks alleged that Assange had been living a “Truman Show”-like existence of surveillance at the Embassy, and that footage of Assange had been offered for sale by unnamed people in Madrid caught in a sting operation.

Pollack also said U.K. courts should “resolve what appears to be an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information.”

Though Assange claims to be a journalist, U.S. journalism associations have been largely ambivalent on that classification.

Fellow Assange lawyer Robertson accused Ecuador meanwhile of releasing Assange because it was “keen to get loans from the United States” and do the “United States’ bidding.”

“America is hellbent on putting him in prison for a very long time to deter those who publish material about the behavior of its armed forces,” Robertson said.

Robertson said the U.S. would likely “assure the British government that he won’t face the death penalty,” and that a U.S. extradition request could take two years for British courts to handle.

He said Assange’s case was about the freedom of the press and that U.S. authorities would claim the First Amendment “doesn’t apply to British or Australian journalists.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Assange’s arrest.

“I would like to thank the Metropolitan Police for carrying out their duties with great professionalism and to welcome the cooperation of the Ecuadorian government in bringing this matter to a resolution,” May said in a statement to the House of Commons. “This goes to show that, in the United Kingdom, no one is above the law.”

Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, thanked Ecuadorean authorities for their cooperation with Britain to “ensure Assange faces justice.”

“Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law,” Hunt said on Twitter. “He has hidden from the truth for years.”

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign affairs ministry, criticized the arrest. On Facebook, she characterized the arrest as thwarting freedom.

“The hand of ‘democracy’ squeezes the throat of freedom,” she said.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union, and Amanda Ottaway is based in the United States.)

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