On 11 April, the WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was arrested at Ecuador’s embassy in London, bringing his seven-year stint there to a dramatic end. Video footage showed a heavily bearded Assange shouting and resisting as he was hauled away by several officers into a waiting police van.
His seven-year stint in the embassy started in 2012, where he was granted refuge while on bail over sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden. The allegations have since been dropped, but he remained in the embassy over fear of US extradition due to his work in Wikileaks. Assange was indicted on conspiracy to commit computer intrusion to help former US soldier Chelsea Manning gain access to classified information, which he intended to publish on WikiLeaks.
Over the years, relations between Assange and the embassy staff collapsed. He abused staff and spread feces on the walls. He was accused of using the embassy as a “centre for spying” and repeatedly interfering with the affairs of other states, such as the WikiLeaks publication of Vatican documents.
This resulted in the Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno ending the asylum of “this spoiled brat” and stating that “from now on we’ll be more careful in giving asylum to people who are really worth it, and not miserable hackers whose only goal is to destabilize governments.” This opened the doors for his arrest by the British police on a US extradition warrant.
Villain or Hero?
The move sparked mixed reactions from all over the world. Many leaders, including the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Theresa May are in support of the arrest. They feel that he committed criminal activity in exposing state secrets, with May commenting that “No one is above the law”.
On the other hand, human rights groups and protesters all over the world argue that this is an assault on freedom of speech. Fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden dubbed the arrest a “dark moment for press freedom”. Whether a villain or a hero, Assange’s arrest raises thorny questions on the limits of free speech.