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The founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange was found guilty of skipping bail in the U.K. on Thursday, and faces likely extradition to the U.S., after a dramatic day that began with his arrest at the Ecuadorean embassy in London where he had been under diplomatic protections since 2012.
U.K. police confirmed on Thursday that he was arrested “on behalf of the United States authorities” as well as on U.K. charges of “failing to surrender without reasonable excuse.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said that he faces up to five years in prison on charges of “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” related to the 2010 leak of hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables.
The day began when Ecuador withdrew Assange’s asylum, inviting police officers with a warrant for his arrest into the Central London embassy. Assange first barged past officers shouting “this is unlawful, I’m not leaving,” according to prosecutors, before being handcuffed and bundled into a police van. Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno cited Assange’s bad behavior in the embassy as one reason for allowing U.K. police to arrest Assange.
At trial later that afternoon, a U.K. district judge found Assange guilty of skipping bail — a charge for which he had been wanted since 2012 — calling him “a narcissist who cannot see beyond his own selfish interest.”
Assange could be sentenced to up to a year in prison in the U.K. but may be extradited to the U.S. before serving time. “Papers for the extradition proceedings have to be circled within 65 days,” Assange’s barrister Liam Walker told TIME.
Assange, 47, received diplomatic asylum from Ecuador after breaching bail in the U.K. during an investigation into sexual assault allegations in Sweden. Sweden has since rescinded its arrest warrant for Assange, though the case is not closed.
The WikiLeaks founder shot to prominence in 2010 when his site published a cache of leaks from the U.S. military provided by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, including videos showing U.S. troops allegedly killing civilians. Assange has argued that he could be arrested by the U.S. if he were arrested in the U.K. or extradited to Sweden.
U.S. prosecutors allege that that Assange helped Manning crack a password to access a government network on Department of Defense computers. Manning then downloaded classified records and sent them to Wikileaks. “Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. “Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures.” At one point, Manning told Assange, “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “Curious eyes never run dry in my experience,” Assange responded, prosecutors said.
In a video posted to Twitter Thursday, the Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno criticized Assange’s “discourteous and aggressive” behavior in the embassy, saying it had “led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable.” Moreno took office as President in May 2017, replacing Rafael Correa, who had extended asylum to Assange.
“He particularly violated the norm of not interfering in the internal affairs of other states,” Moreno said. Assange had been accused by Ecuador of endangering its standing on the international stage by continuing to participate in releasing leaks on WikiLeaks from the embassy. “The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit,” Moreno said.
Ecuador said Thursday that officials had received a guarantee from the U.K. that Assange would not be extradited to a country where he could face the death penalty, according to Reuters.
WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 played a role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Prosecutors said Russian hackers had passed those emails to WikiLeaks in order to disrupt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Video of Assange being arrested was obtained by Ruptly, a news agency owned by RT (formerly Russia Today, the Kremlin-linked channel).
In December 2018, the U.N. criticized what it called the U.K.’s “arbitrary deprivation of liberty” of Assange. “States that are based upon and promote the rule of law do not like to be confronted with their own violations of the law, that is understandable,” a U.N. panel of experts on arbitrary detention said. “The only ground remaining for Mr. Assange’s continued deprivation of liberty is a bail violation in the UK, which is, objectively, a minor offense that cannot post facto justify the more than 6 years confinement that he has been subjected to since he sought asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador.”
After Assange’s arrest, Prime Minister Theresa May thanked the Metropolitan Police and said that Assange’s apprehension proved that in the U.K., “no one is above the law.”
Assange was appearing in court on Thursday.
Police were invited into the embassy on Thursday morning by the Ecuadorean ambassador, police said.