What are the potential charges against Julian Assange following his arrest in London?
UPDATED: The Department of Justice released a statement on Thursday, announcing a criminal charge against Julian Assange, accusing him of conspiring to hack into a classified US government computer.
The charge relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” the Justice Department said in a press release.
The London police confirmed the arrest of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy. He was arrested on a court warrant which dated back to 2012. For the past seven years, Assange had not left the embassy in fear that he will be arrested and extradited to the US for publishing thousands of highly-classified military and diplomatic cables via WikiLeaks without permission.
The Metropolitan Police issued a statement which read, "Julian Assange, 47, has today, Thursday 11 April, been arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) at the Embassy of Ecuador, Hans Crescent, SW1 on a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates' Court on 29 June 2012, for failing to surrender to the court. He has been taken into custody at a central London police station where he will remain, before being presented before Westminster Magistrates' Court as soon as is possible."
Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, on Thursday said: "Assange has been arrested not just for breach of bail conditions but also in relation to a US extradition request."
In 2011, a grand jury hearing started in order to look into the thousands of diplomatic cables. After publishing the documents, the US authorities started to investigate WikiLeaks as well as Assange personally with the aim of prosecuting him under the Espionage Act of 1917. During the Chelsea Manning case which took place in the same year, prosecutors revealed the existence of chat logs between the former US army member and Assange which the WikiLeaks co-founder flatly denied. Manning was arrested in 2010 after reports that he had acknowledged passing over information/ classified material to WikiLeaks and was eventually charged with 22 specified offenses such as communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source, and the most serious of the charges, aiding the enemy amongst others.
The prosecution had argued that WikiLeaks had helped Manning to reverse engineer a password but did not have enough evidence against Assange as Manning insisted that he acted alone. According to court documents published in 2014, Assange is still under "active and ongoing" investigation.
In the year 2015, WikiLeaks had revealed that three of their employees had received word from Google that the company had complied with a federal warrant to turn over their emails and also metadata. Google was given the go-ahead to notify the WikiLeaks team of the existence of the warrant, which stated espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and general conspiracy.
WikiLeaks had released a statement which alleged that the offenses could mean a total of 45 years of imprisonment for Assange and also the other members of the WikiLeaks staff. By 2017, CIA director Mike Pompeo had called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia." Within the same year, US officials told CNN that they were going to be filing formal charges against Assange. WikiLeaks was also under investigation by the US special counsel as they had published a bunch of emails from the Democratic party during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In November last year, the Wall Street Journal had shared that the US Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange and had considered many charges against him. They were also reportedly very confident that they would be able to successfully extradite him.
Assange remained at the embassy in London since he sought asylum in 2012. He was also attempting to avoid being extradited to Sweden over a rape allegation which he has always denied. However, Sweden dropped the investigation into the allegations against him. Assange was also facing being arrested in Britain as he had jumped bail. Recently, relations between Assange and his Ecuadorian hosts took a left turn with multiple accusations on either side. Assange's team feared that he would be thrown out from his refuge.