The pretext for Assange’s arrest was skipping bail in 2012, when he sought asylum in Ecuador over the prospect of being extradited to the US. He was found guilty of failing to surrender to bail by a Westminster magistrate judge on Thursday, and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 2 by video link. He faces up to 12 months in prison.
However, as the UK police made abundantly clear, he was “further arrested” on an extradition warrant from the US.
Though Assange’s name has been dragged through the US press for the past three years over the WikiLeaks’ publication of Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta’s private emails in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, charges against him in the US have nothing to do with that.
Instead, according to the indictment made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, Assange “engaged in a conspiracy” with US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a US government computer network storing classified material, back in March 2010. There is no allegation in the indictment that the purported hack was successful, however, and Assange is charged only with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.”
As the aggravating circumstance, the indictment brings up that Assange and WikiLeaks have already obtained thousands of classified documents from Manning – including State Department cables and Iraq and Afghanistan “war diaries,” which contained the notorious “collateral murder” video showing US forces killing civilians.
The Swedish pretext
Though the US indictment was kept secret for almost a decade, Assange came to believe its existence was behind the Swedish government’s demand to have him arrested on charges of “sexual assault” in 2012, prompting him to seek refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy.
While in Sweden in 2010, Assange had sexual relations with two women, known only as ‘AA’ and ‘SW.’ Since the relations were unprotected, the women went to the police to see if they could force the journalist to get an STI test.
Assange repeatedly offered to be questioned by Swedish authorities, but they refused to do so until November 2016, when Chief Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren interviewed the WikiLeaks founder inside the embassy. The inquiry was closed in 2017.
Swedish prosecutors reportedly considered dropping the charges back in 2013, but were urged by British authorities not to do so. Following Assange’s arrest on Thursday, the attorney for the two plaintiffs urged Isgren to reopen the case.
Between August 2012 and his arrest on Thursday, Assange has spent nearly seven years inside Ecuador’s embassy in London – the last two years in increasingly restricted conditions, without internet access and for a while without any visits allowed, courtesy of the government of President Lenin Moreno.
Back in February 2016, a UN human rights panel described Assange’s situation as “arbitrary detention,” blaming the UK and Sweden for his predicament.